SSP Seminar Series | Competing Paradigms of Physical Pain in Strategic Calculations of Capital Conversions

19 March, 2018
1pm - 2pm

Speaker: Seamus Barker

Chair: Danielle Celermajer



Chronic pain sufferers – many with the common, dualistic understanding that pain is either “real” and caused by physical injury or else is “all in the mind” – routinely receive structured education in pain clinics on an alternative, non-dualistic, scientifically current model, which assumes that processes distributed throughout the brain and spinal cord, processes which are neurobiological but also intrapersonal, amplify and maintain pain. How might these incommensurable paradigms potentially be differently incorporated into what Bourdieu calls cultural capital, and further converted into economic, symbolic and social capital?

This paper will present theoretical interactions between employers, insurers, lawyers, colleagues, healthcare providers, and three “ideal types” of chronic pain sufferers, defined by whether their pain is understood through a) the new paradigm of pain, b) the physical half of the dualistic paradigm, or c) the mental half of the dualistic paradigm. The paper will discuss whether the common rejection of the new paradigm by chronic pain sufferers can be understood not as a failure of health literacy associated with low cultural capital, as Veenstra and Abel describe regarding other instances where health messages are not adopted, but rather as what Bourdieu calls strategic practice, in which pain sufferers, from their habitus and field position, intuitively calculate and optimize conversions between various capitals, including where these must be traded off against optimal treatment options and health outcomes.


About the speaker:

Seamus Barker completed a Bachelor of Physiotherapy at Latrobe University in Australia in 2003, and a Bachelor of Arts - combined Honours: English and Social Theory, at the University of Melbourne in 2012. Seamus attained an MPhil - American Literature from the University of Cambridge in 2014, and in July 2015 commenced my PhD at the University of Sydney, where he was based in the Department of Sociology and Social Policy. His doctorate involves investigating the contestation between different paradigms of pain, as these operate in scientific, medical, political, economic, juridical and cultural fields. Social Theory and Narrative Theory approaches inform this work, which will also involve interviewing pain scientists, medical specialists, and people who experience chronic pain.


Please RSVP by 15 March to attend the seminar.


Location: Room 148 RC Mills Building, Fisher Road, University of Sydney