Public Conference:  27 October 2012
The Birkbeck Pain Project and the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities
Birkbeck College, University

Organised by Visiting Fellow to the Birkbeck Pain Project, Prof. Lynn Botelho (Department of History, Indiana University of Pennsylvania)

According to the British Pain Society, ‘pain is not a normal part of ageing’ (2008).  Yet for generations of older people, pain was something that was intimately tied to the ageing process.  For many, it was the body in pain that signalled their entry into old age.  Furthermore, the elderly have not wanted to be a ‘burdens’ to their families, friends, and support systems, and consequently they often endured pain with a quiet acceptance.  When did this relationship between pain and old age undergo such a profound and fundamental shift?  Or, did it?  Were the elderly in the past always quietly accepting of the aches and pains of a physically declining body?  Or did they fight against pain and the very real physical, emotional, and familial restrictions that chronic pain can impose?

This one-day conference explores the nature of pain in old age between the 18th to the 20th centuries.  It explicitly does so through the lens of the humanities, rather the hard sciences.  The conference strives to be wide-ranging in terms of disciplines, methodologies, and approaches.  In doing so, the conference seeks to engage both panellists and audience in discussion, dialogue, and debate.  Our aim is to facilitate new ways of thinking about both the nature of pain and what it meant to be old.

Possible paper topics might include, but are not limited to

  • Pain, old age and social relationships (partner, children, friends, neighbours)
  • Pain and sexual relations
  • The philosophy of pain
  • Pain and the ageing self
  • Pain as a marker of old age
  • Pain, piety, and religion
  • Representations of pain and old age in literature, art, and autobiography
  • Pain as a mechanism of self-fashioning
  • Pain clustering and the loci of pain, including physical, emotional, and spiritual pain
  • The elderly’s engagement with medicine and medical practitioners
  • The medical community’s response to pain in the old

Please send a 300-500 word abstract and a short C.V. by email to Lynn Botelho by 1 June 2012.

The conference will be held at Brikbeck, University of London.  Further information will be made available online in June, 2012.  There is no fee to attend or register for the conference.

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Centre for Medical Humanities
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