Accepted paper:

'Knowing the body': exploring bodily sensations and their transformation into symptoms in need of care


Sara Marie Hebsgaard Offersen (Aarhus University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores how bodily sensations are given meaning as symptoms and how healthcare seeking decisions are shaped through complex ongoing interactions between the physical body and everyday life among people in a Danish suburban middleclass neighborhood.

Paper long abstract:

Denmark is doing poorly when it comes to cancer survival and one of the reasons is a long patient interval (time from onset of symptoms until healthcare-seeking). Existing research on healthcare-seeking in relation to cancer have primarily been conducted retrospectively and with a focus on already diagnosed patients. Often they conclude that the main factor causing late health-seeking is that people do not recognize that they are experiencing 'cancer alarm symptoms'. These studies, however, often lack explorations into what constitutes the sociocultural framework within which bodily sensations are interpreted as symptoms in need of medical assessment. The paper presents preliminary findings based on one year field-work in a Danish suburban middleclass neighborhood, consisting of participatory observations, symptom diaries and repeated interviews with members from 15 households.Inspired by current writings within 'anthropology of sensations', this paper explores bodily sensations as socially and culturally embedded experiences. It suggests that sensations are given meaning through complex ongoing interactions between the physical body and the everyday life that people lead, consisting of multiple interests, concerns, activities and forms of knowledge. In particular, the paper will focus on the different kinds of knowledge and discourse about the body available, and how they feed into or 'transform' semantically unstable sensations into more stable signs of illness considered to be either nothing to worry about at the moment or in need of further explanation and relief.

panel P108
From bodily sensation to symptoms: consequences for healthcare seeking?