Communicating chronic pain: Interdisciplinary methods for non-textual data


Principal Investigator: Jennifer Tarr, London School of Economics and Political Science

Co-Investigators: Flora Cornish, Aude Bicquelet and Elena Gonzalez-Polledo (LSE)

Project duration: 1 May 2013 - 30 September 2014


Chronic pain is a significant health problem, affecting nearly 10 million Britons and leading to significant lost resources in terms of time off work and negative impact on quality of life. Chronic pain is particularly difficult to diagnose and treat because it is reliant on the patient being able to communicate their symptoms adequately and accurately to health professionals who in turn must be willing to listen and able to interpret these symptoms.

Standardized diagnostic tools such as the McGill Pain Questionnaire rely on linguistic descriptors of pain, yet the standardized descriptors do not necessarily match patients’ own language or work well in translation to other languages. Chronic pain therefore remains a problem for clinicians.

Both medical and humanities approaches from literature and philosophy have often overemphasised pain as an individual problem rather than situating it in a social context. Arts-based interventions have attempted to make sense of pain through visual and other media. The proposed research adapts interdisciplinary methods from the arts, humanities and social sciences to examine how chronic pain, as a non-verbal experience, can be communicated through non-textual data, and how these circulate socially. It will do this through a three stage process involving: analysis of existing textual and non-textual pain expressions online and in social media such as YouTube; a series of five workshops exploring non-textual expressions of pain by mapping physical and bodily, sound (aural), spatial, social and technological elements, and an evaluation process. All workshops will be interdisciplinary, involving chronic pain patients, visual and performing artists, and clinicians researching chronic pain, as well as the members of the research team.

The evaluation phase of the research will look at ways of modelling the outcomes of the workshops and evaluating the relative success of non-textual modes of pain communication for patients, clinicians and other interested professionals. Methodologically, the research will contribute to development, systematisation and evaluation of non-textual research methods and to useful interdisciplinary collaborations between contemporary practices in the arts, humanities and social sciences. It aims to develop and enhance chronic pain sufferers’ ability to communicate their pain and to work with clinicians to better understand pain expressions from a non-linguistic perspective.

For further information please see the project website, follow on Twitter @CCPProject or on Facebook.