The sign of five: the semiotics of symptoms and their erasure
(Universitat Rovira i Virgili)
Paper short abstract:
This paper develops an argument for recovering patient narratives from their erasure in classical semiotics. It analyzes how the symptom has been relegated to the status of physical sign in the work of de Saussure, Barthes, Foucault, Peirce and Eco.
Paper long abstract:
This paper develops an argument for recovering patient narratives from their erasure in classical semiotics. Taking as its point of departure the well-known medical distinction between physical signs (objective symptoms) and symptoms (subjective symptoms), it analyzes how the symptom has been relegated to the status of physical sign in the work of de Saussure, Barthes, Foucault, Peirce and, to a lesser extent, Eco. This has led semiotics to reproduce the biomedical naturalization of affliction, which is the product of the attribution of significance by the medical gaze; a significance which objectifies the sufferers and subjectifies the diseases and the treatments, turning things into subjects and subjects into things. Nevertheless, symptoms are not reducible to physical signs, but cultural constructions. Once we recognize this, symptoms cease to be the raw material of the signifier, the merely phenomenological which has yet to become semantic, the expression of physical pathology whose meaning depends on a medical consciousness. Rescuing the discursive subject of the symptom creates an epistemological shift in semiotics and in the anthropology of affliction: the de-reification of sufferers and the de-subjectivation of diseases and treatments.
From bodily sensation to symptoms: consequences for healthcare seeking?