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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study


Despite COVID-19, the IAS plans to hold a full programme of virtual lectures and seminars. Further events will be added to this page as they are scheduled.

Understanding and Communicating Pain: an interdisciplinary approach

7th May 2014, 18:00 to 8th May 2014, 15:00, Calman Learning Centre Durham (07 May) and the Wolfson Research Institute Queen's Campus (08 May), Dr Clare Roques, Dr Suzannah Biernoff (Birkbeck, University of London) and Dr Rachael Gooberman-Hill (University of Bristol)


Pain is not just an individual physical or emotional experience. The ways in which it is represented and imagined, and the knowledges, beliefs and values that surround it, have a direct effect on how it is experienced and managed by individuals, families and social groups. This event takes an interdisciplinary look at how pain is caused, experienced, understood and communicated exploring the following questions:

  • How do different cultural and sub-cultural groups deal with pain: what kinds of beliefs and values do they have about pain; what kinds of rituals and forms of therapy do they employ in managing it; how do they communicate it? What can we learn from diverse cultural and historial perspectives on pain?


  • Pain is represented in the arts in multiple ways: as something to be feared and conquered; as something that offers fascination and drama. What kinds of images of pain do we draw on in the UK? How can images of pain in the visual and literary arts affect people’s experiences of pain and our strategies for managing it?


  • How do beliefs and ideas about pain affect its representation as a social problem, for example in relation to policies providing access to health and social services? What kinds of scientific evidence are required in demonstrating the efficacy of pain management therapies? How do dominant societal ideas about pain affect social and economic policies relating to worklessness and benefits?


  • What is the science behind pain and its perception by people and how is this linked to the social and psychological questions? What is is the basis for the analgesic “placebo” effect? What is the link between pain and addiction/reward? What is the basis of pain experience changes as we age?



Durham University’s Institute of Advanced Study and Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing, in collaboration with the Durham Forum for Health, will explore these questions in two events; firstly a public talk, followed by a workshop.

  • 07 May: A public event centred on a panel discussion with three speakers, addressing the questions above and inviting contributions from a public audience.
  • 08 May: A one-day workshop, co-hosted by the University’s Biophysical Sciences Institute, aimed at initiating an interdisciplinary project on pain.

Registration is essential for this event. Please book online.

 07 May 2014, 6.00 - 8.00pm, Rosemary Cramp Theatre, Calman Learning Centre, Durham University



Professor Jane Macnaughton
Jane Macnaughton is Professor of Medical Humanities at Durham University and co-director of its Centre for Medical Humanities (CMH). She has published in the fields of medical education, medical humanities, literature and medicine, history of medicine and health care environments. Her books include, Madness and Creativity in Literature and Culture (with Corinne Saunders), The Body and the Arts (with Corinne Saunders and Ulrika Maude) and – in 2013 – a co-edited Medical Humanities Companion. She also led a recent IAS research activity, The Recovery of Beauty, which generated an exhibition at the Durham Light Infantry Museum, and a book, Frissure, by Kathleen Jamie.


Dr Clare Roques
Talk Title:
Is Pain a Problem to be Fixed? An International Perspective
In a briefing note published in 2009, the World Health Organization estimated “that 5 billion people... have no or insufficient access to treatment for moderated to severe pain”. Despite widespread initiatives to change this situation, often focussing on improving access to opioid medications such as morphine, in many countries progress has been limited. Dr Roques will present an overview of these initiatives and describe some of the potential reasons for the apparent gap between global policy and local implementation

Clare is the chair of the ‘Pain in Developing Countries Special Interest Group'. The group hopes to promote efficient and sustainable pain management; to improve awareness of pain management strategies and the barriers to effective implementation of such treatments in developing countries; and to facilitate the communication of views, knowledge, and ideas between healthcare professionals from developing and developed countries. 
Dr Suzannah Biernoff 
Talk Title:
Iconographies of pain and stoicism
How and when is pain represented in Western art and visual culture? There are certain contexts in which pain has been made visible and communicable: religious iconography; studies of physiognomy and human expression; images of illness and self-portraiture. What is harder to fathom is why certain kinds of pain are imaged while others are not. The example Dr Biernoff will focus on is military medicine, in which cultural ideals of masculinity coincide with a medical gaze that abstracts the symptom, or the injured part, from the patient. In photographs of facial injury from the First World War – and Henry Tonks’ intimate drawings of the same patients – one is confronted by a perplexing absence of pain. This absence can be explained, she suggests, by contemporary views of both masculinity and medicine. Stoicism – the ‘stiff upper lip’ – limits the expression of pain and while Tonks’ portraits suggest psychological depth, the case photographs are all surface. In this context pain was – and perhaps still is – subsumed by the ideology of repair and rehabilitation

Suzannah Biernoff teaches in the Department of History of Art at Birkbeck, University of London. Her research has spanned medieval and modern periods: she is the author of Sight and Embodiment in the Middle Ages (2002), while her recent work pursues the themes of corporeal history and visual anxiety in the context of First World War Britain. In 2007 she was awarded a Wellcome Trust Research Leave Award for a project on the cultural history of disfigurement. Her book Portraits of Violence: War and the Aesthetics of Disfigurement is due out later this year.

Dr Rachael Gooberman-Hill
Talk Title:
Research into pain: ethnographic and clinical perspectives
n this talk Dr Rachael Gooberman-Hill shall discuss ethnographic and qualitative studies of pain and reflect on how these may relate to concepts used in, and design of, clinical research. This matters because ethnography and qualitative studies provide insight into pain in context, and because clinical research informs current practice in healthcare. She will introduce some key studies of pain, which have variously explored experiences of pain and pain management. By providing insight into pain in context, such studies help us to understand pain as simultaneously individual, social, cultural, structural and political. As an anthropologist working in pain research, Dr Rachael Gooberman-Hill often wonder how these insights relate to concepts and practice in clinical research? To answer this we need to unpack concepts used in clinical research and see whether and how they relate to a broader understanding of pain gleaned from ethnography and qualitative studies. She shall do this by discussing clinical studies in which she has been involved, including work on long-term musculoskeletal and post-surgical pain, and will conclude with some suggestions for enhanced cross-fertilisation of ideas in the future.

Rachael Gooberman-Hill is the Head of Health Services Research within the Orthopaedic Surgery Research Group, which is part of the Musculoskeletal Research Unit at the University of Bristol. She is a social anthropologist by background who applies techniques from anthropology and other qualitative approaches in applied health research. Her research interests include long-term painful conditions, long-term post-surgical pain, osteoarthritis, care and disability in later life, help-seeking, clinical decision-making and public involvement in research.

The talks will conclude at 8.00pm followed by the opportunity to discuss informally with speakers after the event at a brief reception.

08 May 2014, 9.00 - 3.00pm, Wolfson Research Institute, Durham University, Queen's Campus, Stockton


  • 09:00 – 09:30: Tea/coffee and registration, Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing (WRIHW)


  • 09:30 – 11.00: Welcome and initial roundtable discussion (Chaired by Dr Amanda Ellison, Department of Psychology & Deputy Director, WRIHW)


  • 11:00 – 11:15: Coffeebreak


  • 11:15 – 12:45: Breakout sessions to discuss themes


  • 12:45 – 13:30: Lunch


  • 13:30 – 14:30: Wrap up session and discussion, and next steps (Wellcome Trust project proposal framework/Working package champions) 


  • 15:00: Close



Directions to the Calman Learning Centre (CLC) can be located at here. Alternatively on the University map, the CLC is denoted at building number: 43.

Queen's Campus Map; the Wolfson Research Institute is denoted as building No:5.

Contact for more information about this event.

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