(University of Turku)
Paper Short Abstract:
The paper explores the sensory experience of voice hearing in Finland and control of it through the use of biomedical interventions and cognitive therapy. What does control of the auditory sense tells us about its cultural valuation and the role of biomedicine in shaping unwanted hearing?
Paper long abstract:
This paper explores the sensory experience of voice hearing and is based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted through Moniääniset, an association of voice hearers in Finland. On a global scale a vast number of people (2-4%) regularly experience auditory hallucinations (hearing voices others do not hear). This altered state of mind transforms the self and brings about a great deal of suffering and self-isolation. Auditory hallucinations are hard to categorise in the realm of the sensorium because of the multi-sited nature of where voice hearers perceive them to originate; both within the skin-bound body and extending beyond it. In some cases experiences can also be multi-sensory, further complicating categorisation of these experiences. Biomedical interventions, mostly in the form of psychopharmacology, are employed to numb or remove these disturbing sensory experiences. The use of medication is ambiguous for those who suffer from auditory hallucinations - it is both a desired and un-wanted manner of altering the mind. Alternative therapeutic methods, in the form of cognitive therapy employed to make voice hearers confront and familiarise themselves with their voices, is promoted by Moniääniset. Acknowledging these voices as part of the self and working with them is an emancipatory process, but is also a manner of recognising the fragility of the human mind, the boundary crossing capabilities of the auditory sense and the human capacity to heal the mind. The paper ponders what control of the auditory sense tells us about the cultural valuation of this sense and the role of biomedicine in shaping unwanted hearing in Finnish society.
The sensory experience of suffering and healing