Project

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Life (Beyond) Writing: Illness Narratives

English title Life (Beyond) Writing: Illness Narratives
Applicant Locher Miriam
Number 126959
Funding scheme Interdisciplinary projects
Research institution Department of English Basel University
Institution of higher education University of Basel - BS
Main discipline German and English languages and literature
Start/End 01.10.2009 - 30.09.2012
Approved amount 402'111.00
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Keywords (12)

medical education; medical humanities; illness; identity; narrative; metaphor research; gender; autobiography; doctor-patient interaction; expert-lay person interaction; communication; narrative medicine

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary
The research project explores the social and cultural meanings of illness narratives and analyses their role and function in the literary, linguistic, and medical field. Thus, illness narratives will be approached from the three different disciplines, literary studies, linguistics, and medicine.Life writing (autobiographical) texts are omnipresent in our lives and play a crucial role in doctor-patient communication, in literature, and in everyday linguistic situations. The importance of narrative in the medical field has become acknowledged, but most doctors are not trained to be susceptible to specific linguistic and literary uses in their patients' stories. Thus, it is necessary to integrate literary and linguistic issues into the curriculum at medical schools to approach illness more holistically. In addition, numerous recent illness narratives by patients/writers provide new insights that go beyond the biomedical dimension of an illness, and with their aesthetic impact express additional aspects of human experience such as illness. A linguistic analysis of narratives by Swiss medical students on a case history and comparative corpora from English and American students will offer crucial information on the ways in which future doctors interpret a patient's narrative and reflect their own situation.The results of both the linguistic and literary analyses will be used to improve current and develop future training for communicative skills for both medical students and practicing doctors and thus has a direct applied impact for the medical humanities. Furthermore, the students will improve their narrative competence and learn to pay heed to otherwise hidden, yet crucial information on a more encompassing context of illness. The interrelation between the three disciplines will thus be manifold in that both fields of linguistics and literature will work on data derived from the field of medicine and will let their results flow back into the field of medicine.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
On Being Ill (in Britain and the US)
Gygax Franziska (2013), On Being Ill (in Britain and the US), in European Journal of Life Writing , 1, 1-17.
Theoretically Ill: Autobiographer, Patient, Theorist
Gygax Franziska (2013), Theoretically Ill: Autobiographer, Patient, Theorist, in Alexandra Lembert-Heidenreich and Jarmila Mildorf (ed.), LIT, Münster, 173-190.
Moving across disciplines and genres: Reading identity in illness narratives and reflective writing texts
Gygax Franziska, Koenig Regula, Locher Miriam A. (2012), Moving across disciplines and genres: Reading identity in illness narratives and reflective writing texts, in Rukhsana Ahmed & Benjamin Bates (ed.), Kendall Hunt, Dubuque, 17-35.

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
University of Nottingham Great Britain and Northern Ireland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
COMET Individual talk 28.06.2012 Trondheim, Norway Koenig Regula;
JASGIL Individual talk 04.05.2012 Strasbourg, France Koenig Regula; Locher Miriam;
EAAS Talk given at a conference 30.03.2012 Izmir, Turkey Gygax Franziska;
Workshop Talk given at a conference 10.02.2012 Basel, Switzerland Koenig Regula; Gygax Franziska; Locher Miriam;
First-person Writing, Four-way Reading conference Talk given at a conference 01.12.2011 London, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Gygax Franziska; Koenig Regula;
COMET Individual talk 30.06.2011 Nottingham, UK, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Koenig Regula; Locher Miriam;
ALAPP Talk given at a conference 23.06.2011 Cardiff, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Koenig Regula;
IABA Life Writing in Europe Conference: "Trajectoris of (Be)Longing." Talk given at a conference 18.05.2011 Tallinn, Estonia Gygax Franziska;
SAUTE: On the Move Individual talk 05.05.2011 Bern, Switzerland Locher Miriam; Gygax Franziska; Koenig Regula;
Workshop on Medical Humanities “Narrative strategies in trauma narratives: coherence and identity" Talk given at a conference 12.01.2011 Freiburg i. Breisgau, Germany Koenig Regula; Gygax Franziska;
JASGIL Best Practice Workshops with Prof. Salikoko Mufwene Individual talk 23.10.2010 Basel, Switzerland Koenig Regula;
Doktorandenforschungskolloquiums Linguistik Basel Individual talk 18.10.2010 Basel, Switzerland Koenig Regula;
COMET Individual talk 28.06.2010 Boston, United States of America Koenig Regula;
The International Auto/Biography Association (IABA) Conference 2010 on Life Writing and Intimate Publics Individual talk 28.06.2010 Brighton, University of Sussex, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Gygax Franziska;
6th European Meeting of the Society for Literature, Science and the Arts: “Textures”. Individual talk 15.06.2010 Riga, Latvia Gygax Franziska;
English Seminar Research Colloquium Individual talk 03.05.2010 Basel, Switzerland Koenig Regula; Locher Miriam; Gygax Franziska;
SWELL Best Practice Workshops with Prof. Dennis Preston. Individual talk 19.03.2010 Basel, Switzerland Koenig Regula;
SWELL Individual talk 12.03.2010 Bern, Switzerland Koenig Regula;
SWELL Best Practice Workshops with Prof. David Britain Individual talk 06.11.2009 Basel, Switzerland Koenig Regula;
International conference on Life Writing in Europe: Founding Conference IABA Europe Individual talk 29.10.2009 Amsterdam, VU University, Netherlands Gygax Franziska;


Self-organised

Title Date Place
Interdisciplinary workshop 31.01.2011 Basel , Switzerland
Health and Language: Lecture series 09.11.2010 Universität Basel, Switzerland
Workshop Medical Humanities 09.11.2010 Universität Basel, Switzerland
Workshop Medical Humanities 23.06.2010 Universität Basel, Switzerland

Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
Talks/events/exhibitions Kommunikation im Gesundheitswesen – Möglichkeiten und Grenzen German-speaking Switzerland 2012

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
144541 Life (Beyond) Writing: Illness Narratives 01.10.2012 Interdisciplinary projects

Abstract

The growing interest in and awareness of the function and role of narratives in our lives has affected almost all academic disciplines and scientific research communities. The title “Life (Be-yond) Writing: Illness Narratives” refers to two key issues of our interdisciplinary research pro-ject: “Life writing” is an umbrella term (used in today’s autobiography studies) illustrating the prominence and diversity of autobiographical writing (e.g., diaries, letters, essays, memoirs, photography, homepages, etc.); thus, our lives are permeated with life writing texts. Inserting the preposition “beyond” between “life writing” on the one hand alludes to the potential of an author living on in his/her text after his/her death, which is even more pertinent in a narrative recounting the experience of a terminal illness. On the other hand “life beyond writing” refers to the fact that in writing/telling a narrative there is always an interaction between writer and reader/listener involved and the “life” of a vis-à-vis who is not writing is inherently present. “Narrative” is also a broad term and there are different schools of narrative analysis mainly involving linguists, literary theorists, and anthropologists. In spite of the many different defini-tions (see Lucius-Hoene and Deppermann 2002; Martinez and Scheffel 2002) there is a general agreement, namely that a narrative must “involve the recounting of an event or events, […]. And second that these events can be either real or fictitious” (Hawthorn 2000: 225). Literary studies have traditionally explored issues of narrative, in particular related to prose texts. Nar-rative is often used together with discourse which emphasizes the discursive presentation of events (contrary to “story” which designates the sequence of events (Chatman 1979 or Bal 1997). Thus, any narrative text imposes an order on events (whether they are true or not) and is a representation that is never identical with the event it actually recounts. Linguistics, in particular the more recent branch of sociolinguistics and especially discourse analysis, has raised questions about the role of narrative in communication (cf. e.g., Labov 1972, 1997; Johnstone 1990; De Fina 2003; Klapproth 2004). In addition, narrative plays a crucial role in anthropological research. Numerous studies in literature, linguistics, and anthropology have emphasized that narrative is one of the key constituents of human identity and self-representation. Furthermore, in the age of the new communication technologies the world wide net provides a platform for all kinds of self-representation and thus also for telling about one’s life. Medicine is another field in which narrative has always been crucial since a patient going to see a doctor usually presents his or her medical problem in a narrative and the doctor listens to and interprets the “story.” In spite of the numerous stories being told to medical professionals most doctors are not trained to interpret the patients’ stories and to be susceptible to specific uses of metaphors, narrative structures, or other discursive signs. Only in the recent years in the fairly new field of the medical humanities has narrative become acknowledged as an issue that must be explored and theorized in depth. Literary scholars and professors of medicine like Rita Charon (Columbia University) have started to teach medical students how to read narratives and have institutionalized a curriculum in narrative medicine, which not only includes courses on literary topics in connection with illness but also on philosophical themes, on the arts, and even courses on writing about their own experience for medical students (cf. Charon 2006). The planned interdisciplinary research project “Life (Beyond) Writing: Illness Narratives” will comprise the three disciplines literature, linguistics, and medicine and is based on three pil-lars. First, the literary approach should provide insights into the complex representations of illness in literary narratives and deal with the cultural and social constructions of illness. The numerous publications of literary illness narratives in the past thirty years initiated debates and theories about this genre. Of course, people - above all writers - have always written down their experiences of illness, but the last three decades have seen an unusually great number of such publications. Since many of these texts are autobiographical, the field of autobiography studies has become influential regarding theorizing and exploring the specificities of illness narratives. Moreover, apart from analyzing the cultural and social contexts of such narratives, medical issues and in particular the ways in which the patient/autobiographer is writing about them also have to be investigated and results can be used to bridge the gap between the pa-tient’s personal experience of illness and its (bio)medical dimension. Furthermore, literary nar-ratives with their powerful aesthetic impact do more than just mirror the experience of a pa-tient/autobiographer; such narratives always contain imaginary realms which hint at a poten-tial of humankind that often can only be expressed through art. The aesthetics of literary texts can express matters that are otherwise hidden from us, but nevertheless reveal insights into human experience such as illness. Using this insight in medical communication makes a more holistic approach to illness possible and improves the relationship between patient and doctor. Second, the linguistic analysis of narratives by third-year medical students of the University of Basel on a case history (which they all have to write after an intensive communication skills training) and the study of comparative corpora of such texts from English students (contact: Victoria Tischler, University of Nottingham) and American students (contact: Michael Green, Penn State University) will offer crucial information on the specific ways in which future doc-tors respond to and interpret a patient’s narrative and reflect their own situation and response. This corpus is completed by a number of texts of professional practitioners, who reflect on their working experience in journal columns such as ‘A Piece of My Mind’ (JAMA - The Journal of the American Medical Association) or ‘ On Being a Doctor’ (The American College of Physicians). Just as in the case of the analysis of literary narratives, the corpora thus consist of written texts that have been carefully composed and reflected on by their creators. In a framework that con-siders identities as being created discursively, the linguistic strategies will be investigated that allow the students and practitioners to reflect on their identities as (novice) experts versus pa-tients and the construction of illness in their narratives. Third, the results of both linguistic and literary analyses are discussed with Alexander Kiss (University of Basel), who is in charge of the Medical Humanities and involved in the communi-cation skills training of medical students at the medical faculty. The results will be used to im-prove current and develop future training for communicative skills for both medical students and practicing doctors and thus has a direct applied impact for the medical humanities. Fur-thermore, the students will improve their narrative competence and be open and alert for ill-ness narratives of patients that do not present a straightforward and clearly recognizable nar-rative line of a case history; instead, those medical students will learn to pay heed to otherwise hidden, yet crucial information on a more encompassing context of illness. The interrelation between the three disciplines will thus be manifold in that both fields of linguistics and litera-ture will work on data derived from the field of medicine and will let their results flow back into the field of medicine.
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