Teaching Resources

Illness and subjectivity: a syllabus

When I was in graduate school during the early 2000s, there was a lot of discussion taking place about “subjectivity.”  I found much of this conversation deeply confusing, in part because so little was being done pedagogically to sort out the work being carried out under this term from research under a number of cognate rubrics such as “self” and “personhood.” So when I started teaching, the first graduate seminar I designed was an attempt to sort out some of these distinctions — not only for my students, but for myself as well.

I’ve now taught “Illness and subjectivity” three times and I finally feel that the structure and reading list has settled enough to share it here. The course attempts to trace some of the key literatures surrounding issues of what we might call “interiority” for medical and psychological anthropology.  I’ve also tried to bring together work which has been conducted under a number of related terms — not only “subjectivity,” but also “self,” “personhood,” “emotion,” “affect” and so on.  Some anthropologists have used the term “subjectivity” to designate an approach to psychological experience which is closely attuned to issues of hierarchy, history and global economic and political processes—issues which were supposedly absent or less central to a somewhat older research tradition around rubrics of “the self” and “personhood” (e.g. Good et al. 2008).  One of the things I hope that this course does is to open this claim up to a critical discussion — and invite greater conversation between the work taking place under the rubrics of “subjectivity” and “self”.

Each week is organized around a particular conceptual node like narrative, metaphor, emotion, or biopower. I try to include at least one text which might be considered “foundational,” several which represent an ethnographic working-out of the concept and one or two which are in some way critical of the concept or of the way it is being used.  In some cases this leads to a nice cluster of texts which are all in explicit conversation with one another.  In every case it leads me to assign a lot of reading — although I think this conceptual clustering makes it more manageable.

The weekly clusters and the readings have changed a bit over the three iterations of the course.  In the version of the syllabus I’m sharing here I’ve included a list of texts taught in previous years for each week, as well as separate list of other clusters/modules that I’ve taught in previous years.  I hope that some of you find this useful.  If you have suggestion for other readings or ideas for different approaches to teaching these topics, please feel free to discuss in the comments.  Also, if you have your own syllabus which you’d like to share with other Somatosphere readers, get in touch!

If you have trouble with Scribd, you can also download a pdf of the syllabus here.

2 replies on “Illness and subjectivity: a syllabus”

This is really cool! Thanks for sharing, and for demonstrating how the course has changed over time.

Thank you for sharing this with us all. I can appreciate your motivation for doing it as I have struggled with as well. This is helpful not only to see the fruits of your labour, but also to see how you negotiated the material. Great work!

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