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Gender and the language of pain in chronic and terminal illness: a corpus-based discourse analysis of patients’ narratives

Jaworska, S. ORCID: and Ryan, K. (2018) Gender and the language of pain in chronic and terminal illness: a corpus-based discourse analysis of patients’ narratives. Social Science & Medicine, 215. pp. 107-114. ISSN 0277-9536

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2018.09.002


Drawing on the notion of gender as a socially constructed category performed inter alia through language, this study examines the ways in which women and man use language to do person-in-pain in real-life interactions about chronic and terminal illness. It is based on a secondary analysis of a large corpus of health and illness narratives collected by the Health Experiences Research Group at the University of Oxford and published by the DIPEx charity. Sixteen chronic and terminal conditions were identified in which men and women talked about physical pain and their narratives examined using the linguistic approach of a corpus-assisted discourse analysis. Our study shows that there are significant quantitative and qualitative differences in the ways in which women and men report pain pointing to the existence of distinctive feminine and masculine lexical repertoires of pain talk. While these repertoires conform to some of the dominant societal stereotypes surrounding masculinity and femininity, they also transgress those. Women refer to pain more frequently and have a wider lexical repertoire for pain reporting. They use more specific and factual references as well as cognitive and psychological words in their pain talk. In contrast, men tend to use fewer descriptors in general, most of which are highly emotive suggesting that they report pain when it becomes unbearable enduring it until this point. There is also a conspicuous absence of references to psychological processes in the male narratives and the focus is on pain killers. Understanding this nuanced role of gender in communicating pain can help health professionals respond effectively to people’s talk about pain and develop more holistic practices in pain consultation, assessment and treatment leading potentially to the reduction of gender biases and inequalities in healthcare

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Literature and Languages > English Language and Applied Linguistics
Life Sciences > School of Chemistry, Food and Pharmacy > School of Pharmacy > Pharmacy Practice Research Group
ID Code:78938
Uncontrolled Keywords:gender; pain; gender stereotypes; hegemonic masculinity; illness narratives; corpus-based discourse analysis


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