Multimodal communication of physical pain

By: Natalia Sánchez (Research MA, Media Studies, University of Amsterdam)

The communication of physical pain is a subject of great political and economical complexity. The success of many institutions depends on their ability to create a common understanding of, and to permit the acknowledgment of, the experience of suffering. Therefore, the elusive nature of physical pain calls for the structuring of a set of mediations that will transform pain – identified by many theorists as a private and invisible feeling – into a socio-cultural event recognizable by others. In my work I propose and describe three punctual stages (or concepts) of  such mediation: (1) Pain behaviors, related to the body as a medium of expression of pain (2); Pain feelings, related to the cognitive filters and metaphors that help make sense of the embodied experience of pain and; (3) Pain socialization, related to the narrative structures that convert pain into an event involving various subjects and agents outside the sufferer’s body.

My overall goal is to present a workable model of analysis for representations of pain that can be further applied to media texts from various fields. For the moment, I will specifically use examples from (a) body performance, (b) pain medication advertisements and (c) video games. Finally, I hope that the construction and further application of the model will allow me to extract conclusions regarding pain and some of its contemporary discourses, and explore the articulation between media theory, multimodal theory, and pain studies.

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