PhD Courses in Denmark

Suffering in Contemporary Society

Doctoral School of the Humanities at Aalborg University

Registration to: hannepc@hum.aau.dk no later than May 1, 2020 / Abstracts to alfred@hum.aau.dk and pclement@hum.aau.dk no later than May 8, 2020.

Price for non HUM-AAU-participants: DKK 500 (Link to payment site will be posted in January)

During this four-day course, we will investigate the questions, dilemmas and aporias related to human suffering. Ranging from sociological analyses of social pathologies over psychological and medical issues and questions related to diagnostic cultures, existential and theological encounters with suffering to related issues following from climate change, we seek to promote interdisciplinarity at its best. Approaching suffering from these various angles, we also insist on the internal overlaps, and call for mutual exchanges. The complexity of the subject requires transcending specific disciplinary stances, and we believe there is much to gain from digging deeper into both the specificity and the interrelatedness of suffering. 

Even though suffering has the potential to unite us, it can only be known uniquely as our own, making it paradigmatic for existential dilemmas in a broader sense. Suffering in various forms pervades history, but its dramas are staged in culturally specific forms and experienced singularly. Although it can be seen as an irreversible condition of human life, there is something undoubtedly wrong with certain forms of excessive suffering. This course makes the argument that a university in the 21stcentury should play a central role regarding conceptualizing and understanding suffering, as well as to work actively regarding how to remedy in relevant ways.

This course will be relevant for PhD students from various scientific fields that address suffering in their PhD project or have an interest in including the topic in future work. The course should be seen as an opportunity to inspire and be inspired by colleagues working with related issues and by lectures from distinguished scholars in a broad range of scientific fields with an original take on the subject. As such, the course will contribute to theoretical, empirical and clinical advancement regarding apprehending and managing issues related suffering in a PhD project. 

Furthermore, it will provide a great forum for exchanges of ideas and networking both within and between scientific areas. Therefore, the course literature spans several different scientific approaches, which hopefully will inspire participants to further engage with suffering in their own projects as well as utilizing more interdisciplinary approaches. “Participants are required to read the course literature and submit a one-page abstract, concerning how suffering is – or might be – interesting for their own projects. The abstracts are to be read by all participants and will make the point of departure for the oral presentation and plenary discussion during the course days. Abstracts are sent by e-mail to alfred@hum.aau.dk and pclement@hum.aau.dk no later than May 8, 2020.”

Together with our invited lecturers who are all internationally recognized authorities and stand at the frontiers of their respective fields, we look forward to four days of academic life at its best: high quality discussions within and between different fields of studies, meetings with national and international colleagues, establishment of future research cooperations as well as social activities. 

Lecturers:

Carsten Pallesen, Associate Professor, Section of Systematic Theology, University of Copenhagen

Svend Brinkmann, Professor, Department of Communication and Psychology, Aalborg University

Fredrik Svenaeus, Professor, Center for Studies in Practical Knowledge, Södertörn University, Stockholm

Rasmus Willig, Associate Professor, Department of Social Sciences and Business, Roskilde University

Anders Petersen, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology and Social Work, Aalborg University

Alfred Bordado Sköld, Ph.D.-fellow, Department of Communication and Psychology, Aalborg University

Peter Clement Lund, Ph.D.-fellow, Department of Communication and Psychology, Aalborg University

 

Last but not least, this course offers a unique opportunity for publication, since it runs parallel with a special number on “Suffering in contemporary society “in the journal Qualitative Studies: https://tidsskrift.dk/qual/announcement/view/770 Articles are due July 1, 2020 and course participation could be seen as well-chosen part of preparing this written work. 

 

Day 1. Suffering in a relational and theological perspective

10.00-11.00 Introduction, Overview of the course, Presentation of the participants – Alfred B. Sköld & Peter C. Lund

11.00-12.30 Grief as relational suffering – Alfred B. Sköld

Abstract: This lecture will focus on the relational aspects of suffering. Drawing on an on-going Ph.D.- project on the existential and socio-ontological aspects of partner bereavement, I investigate the relationship between love, grief and suffering. Can suffering be seen as inherent and constitutive of love relationships as such? How can grief and suffering be employed as a key concept with regard to understanding our relational life during the lifespan? Further, I will seek to conceptualize the existential core of grief as being characterized a sense of unshareability. Only I can grieve my grief which in a certain sense can be seen as an answer to the loss of a particular relationship, and only conceivable from within this sphere. In this way, grief carries an inherent form of normativity over and above the sociocultural mediation. The existential structure of grief can perhaps even be said to be paradigmatic for suffering as such: the only thing we have in common is that we have nothing in common.

Readings:

  • Fuchs, T. (2018). Presence in absence: The ambiguous Phenomenology of Grief. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 17:43–63 DOI: 10.1007/s11097-017-9506-2
  • Ingerslev, L. R. (2017). On-going: On grief’s open-ended rehearsal. Continental Philosophical Review DOI: 10.1007/s11007-017-9423-7
  • Kierkegaard, S. (1847/2009), Works of Love (Part II, Chapter IX: The Work of Love in Remembering One Dead, p. 317-330). Harperpennial
  • Ruin, H. (2018). Being with the Dead: Burial, Ancestral Politics, and the Roots of Historical Consciousness. Stanford University Press.

12.30-13.30 Lunch

13:30-15:00 - Rhetorics and Poetics of Suffering - Theological and Phenomenological Perspectives - Carsten Pallesen

Abstract: The one who suffers does not talk. The paradox of speaking about suffering is that the speaker does not (only) suffer, he also sighs, sings, and laments, and in these expressions a host of ambiguities are disclosed. A reduplication is taking place between the immediate experience and memory of suffering and its public representation and articulation. Witnessing is in danger of betraying and it represents a risk for the survivor of atrocitity, that the witnessing will cost the life of the witness. The risk of speaking is articulated in Hamlet, “Why must I like a whore unpack my heart?” and Nietzsche’s interpretation of this: only that, which has become dead inside of us, can we find words for.

Pathos of lament not only prevails over ethos and logos, it also anticipates praise of God as its ultimate, theological extreme: the foolishness of the Cross. This topic permeates the written corpus of both Martin Luther and Søren Kierkegaard. Passivity (Greek: pathos) can be seen as a third element in the relationship between ethos and logos, and hence as a category implying a neglected hermeneutical dimension of ethos and logos. The vita passiva is shown to be a life of creative passivity, a “passivity by passion”, including suffering. Traditional semantics of mourning and lament, guilt and finitude, offer guidelines for how suffering could be included in a society where suffering and lament perhaps has become speechless and unloved or has become all too eloquent. Suffering is a precarious and perhaps ‘unloved’ phenomenon in modern society, yet harboring a potential for individual and social re-orientation. Rebecca Comay addresses the topic of hypochondria, suffering and lament in Kant, Beckett, and Hamlet. Günter Bader and Paul Ricoeur offer points of entry in biblical lament to a possible way of “speaking without speaking”.   

Readings:

  • Comay, Rebecca; “Hypocondria and its Discontents, or, the Geriatric Sublime” Crisis & Critique Vol. 3/Issue 2, 41-58.
  • Comay, Rebecca, “Paradoxes of Lament: Benjamin and Hamlet”, Ilit Ferber and Paula Schwebel, eds. Lament in Jewish thought (Berlin: De Gryuter 2024)
  • Pallesen, Carsten “A Questioning Lament: Trajectories of Biblical Poetry and Intepretive Prose in Psalm 22 and in the Passion of Mark as a Hegelian Moment in Paul Ricoeur’s Philosophy of Religion” in Ed Ingolf U. Dalferth og Marlene A. Block the Legacy of Paul Ricoeur Hermeneutik und Religionsphilosophie (Tübingen Mohr Siebeck 2015).
  • Ricoeur, Paul, ”Ninth Study The Self and Practical Wisdom” Oneself as Another (Chicago/London 1992), 240-296.
  • Ricoeur, Paul, “Evil, a Challenge to Philosophy and Theology” Figuring the Sacred, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press 1995) 249-261.

15:00-15:15 Coffee break

15:15-17:00 Student presentations (Five)

 

Day 2. Suffering in a psychological and medical perspective

9.00-09:15 Introduction Alfred B. Sköld & Peter C. Lund

9:15-11:00 Diagnosed suffering – Svend Brinkmann

Abstract: Some studies estimate that each year, around a quarter of the population of Western countries will suffer from at least one mental disorder. Should this be interpreted as evidence for the progress of psychiatry, a discipline that is now able to identify and treat mental illnesses that have always existed, or might it be the case that modern life somehow creates new conditions, or social pathologies? With these questions in mind, I will discuss in my presentation whether something more fundamental has been taking place in recent years: the development of diagnostic cultures. Taking account of the phenomenon of patients themselves 'pushing for' pathologization - and acknowledging therefore that this is not simply a case of psychiatry pursuing an agenda of 'medicalisation from above' – I intend to examine the emerging trend towards interpreting our sufferings in terms of psychiatric conceptions and diagnostic categories. I will refer to empirical case studies of psychological diagnoses, notably concerning ADHD, and employ both cultural-psychological and sociological analyses to charts the development of contemporary diagnostic cultures. I shall also ask whether, in transforming existential, moral and political concerns into individual psychiatric disorders, we risk losing sight of the larger historical and social forces that affect our lives and make us suffer.

Readings:

  • Brinkmann, S. (2014). Languages of suffering. Theory & Psychology, 24(5): 630-648.
  • Rose, N. (2006). Disorders without borders? The expanding scope of psychiatric practice. BioSocieties, 1(4): 465-484.

11:00-11:15 Break

11:15-12:30 Student presentations (four)

12:30-13::30 Lunch

13:30–15:00 The Nature of Suffering and the Goals of Medicine – Fredrik Svenaeus

Abstract: Suffering is a key concept in biomedical ethics: to acknowledge and alleviate suffering is perhaps the most important ethical principle there is in the practice of medicine. But what is suffering? What makes us suffer and how do we suffer? These are certainly important questions if we want to be able to understand and help people who suffer, as we do in health care. Is suffering a feeling or is it rather a matter of becoming unable to attain vital goals in life? In what ways is a person’s whole life and not only her aching body involved in the suffering-process? Does suffering ever have the potential to make a person’s life better or is it always a nuisance to be avoided? In this presentation, I will try to provide answers to these and other related questions by adopting a phenomenological point of view. Phenomenology starts out in philosophical analysis by stressing the perspective of everyday experience and what is referred to as the ‘life-world’ or our ‘being-in-the-world’; that is: the way we make sense of our lives by way of meaning patterns constituted with other persons in everyday doings and projects. Suffering in medicine has a physical core – the body – but it expands to cover things that have little to do with material processes as such and all the more to do with how we understand and interpret the things we have to endure.

Readings:

  • Svenaeus, F. (2018). Phenomenological Bioethics: Medical Technologies, Human Suffering, and the Meaning of Being Alive. London: Routledge, chapter 1-4.

15:00-15:15 Break

15:15-17:00 Student presentations (four)

 

Day 3. Suffering in a Climate change perspective

9.00-9:15 Introduction

09:15-11:00 What will we reply to climate change? - Rasmus Willig

Abstract: In the near future, we can expect that our children and yours will ask: What have you done? What are you going to do about it? And what do you think we should do? In this situation, it will not be enough to say that Mum and Dad can’t really do much about it. They will ask us to give a special account of our actions and ethical considerations. And the question will be frighteningly difficult to answer if we are living false lives while our world is heading for the precipice. Our reply to our children is in principle an answer to critical questions – critical questions that have to do with the behaviour of our generation. And we feel tormented by this, because we have done nothing but destroy the world that our children will inherit. Our way of life has become the target of critique from those whom we love most, and for whom we wish the best. We have not done things well enough. That is a fact. Animal and plant life is being exterminated at a unprecedented rate, and today there are more climate refugees than there are refugees from wars. And what is worse: this is just the beginning. 

Readings:

  • Willig, R. & Vetlesen, A. J., What will we reply? (forthcoming)´

11:00-11:15 Coffee break

11:15-12:30: Walk-and-talk in pairs: What will you reply?

12:30-13:30 Lunch

13:30-15:00 Student presentations (Four)

15:00-15:15 Break

15:15-17:00 Student presentations (Four)

 

Day 4. Suffering in a sociological perspective

9.00-9:15 Introduction – Alfred B. Sköld & Peter C. Lund

9:15-11:00 Suffering in a sociological perspective (grief and death) – Peter C. Lund
Abstract: This lecture will look at suffering through the perspective of grief. Although suffering in general is an undeniable fact of life, grief might be one of the most distressing events in life, while simultaneously also being a completely common experience. In this light we may come to views grief as an essential part of human life, culture and society – we must deal with this unavoidable fact of life and we must somehow handle both the knowledge of it and the experience itself. Traditionally, this has been done through religion, i.e. Job and his comforters in the Bible or Buddha’s teachings that Life is Suffering, but as our societies become more secularized grief becomes more problematic. If we no longer believe in a life after death, how do we handle the loss of those we love? I will attempt to highlight this development during modernity and talk about how a more individualized and psychiatrized understanding of grief, strips it of any meaning culture may have embedded in it; thereby leaving grief unadorned and terrifying. How are we handling this in contemporary society and can the influx of grief literature, the rising cultural preoccupation with it and the pathologization of grief be seen in this light?

Readings:

  • Mellor, P. A., & Shilling, C. (1993). Modernity, Self-Identity and the Sequstration of Death. Sociology, 27(3), 411–431.
  • Bauman, Z. (1992). Survival as a Social Construct. Theory, Culture & Society, 9(1), 1–36.
  • Granek, L. (2010). Grief as pathology: The Evolution of Grief Theory in Psychology From Freud to the Present. History of Psychology, 13(1), 46–73.
  • Jacobsen, M. H. (2016). “Spectacular Death”—Proposing a New Fifth Phase to Philippe Ariès’s Admirable History of Death. Humanities, 5(2), 19.

11:00-11:15 Break

11:15-12:30 Student presentations (Four)

12:30-13:30 Lunch

13:30-15:00 Suffering and social pathologies – Anders Petersen

Abstract: How can we understand the ways in which contemporary malaises, diseases, illnesses and psycho-somatic syndromes are related to cultural pathologies of the social body and disorders of the collective esprit de corps of contemporary society? I this lecture I argue that many contemporary problems of health and well-being are to be understood in the light of radical changes of social structures and institutions, extending to crises in our civilization as a whole. Problems of health and well-being have hitherto been considered in isolation; both in isolation from one another, and in isolation from broader contexts. I argue, however, that health and well-being are not just located at the level of the individual body, the integral human person, or even collective social bodies, particular communities, entire societies, or even whole civilizations, but encompass the health of humanity as a whole and our relationship with Nature. I order to do so, I argue that pathologies are to be treated as multiple and as being related to one another, and as not merely problems to be understood and addressed at the level of the individual sufferer but rather as to be understood in social and historical terms. Instead of addressing these conditions as though they were discrete pathologies, specific diseases suffered by private individuals as ‘cases’, the starting point is always that the sources of these problems are social, that they arise from collectively experienced conditions of social transformations and shifts in our civilization.

Readings:

  • Petersen, Anders (2011): Authentic Self-realisation and Depression. International Sociology, Vol. 26 (1): 5-24.
  • Hartmut Rosa (2010). Alienation and Acceleration: Towards a Critical Theory of Late-Modern Temporality. Malmo: NSU Press.
  • Honneth, A. (2014). The Diseases of Society: Approaching a nearly impossible concept. Social Research, 81(3), 683–703.

15:00-15:15 Break

15:15-16:00 Evaluation and goodbye

Literature:

  • Brinkmann, S. (2016). Diagnostic Cultures: A Cultural Approach to the Pathologization of Modern Life. London: Routledge.
  • Butler, J. (2006). Precarious Life. The Powers of Mourning and Violence, Verso: London.
  • Comay, Rebecca; “Hypocondria and its Discontents, or, the Geriatric Sublime” Crisis & Critique Vol. 3/Issue 2, 41-58.
  • Comay, R. (2014), “Paradoxes of Lament: Benjamin and Hamlet”, In: Lament in Jewish thought (Ferber, I. & Schwebel, P., eds.). Berlin: De Gryuter.
  • Fuchs, T. (2017). Presence in absence. The ambiguous phenomenology of grief. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, (October), 1–21. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11097-017-9506-2
  • Granek, L. (2010). Grief as pathology: The Evolution of Grief Theory in Psychology From Freud to the Present. History of Psychology, 13(1), 46–73. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0016991
  • Honneth, A. (2014). The Diseases of Society: Approaching a nearly impossible concept. Social Research, 81(3), 683–703. https://doi.org/10.1353/sor.2014.0042
  • Ingerslev, L. R. (2018). Ongoing: On grief’s open-ended rehearsal. Continental Philosophy Review, 51(3), 343–360. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11007-017-9423-7
  • Jacobsen, M. H. (2016). “Spectacular Death”—Proposing a New Fifth Phase to Philippe Ariès’s Admirable History of Death. Humanities, 5(2), 19. https://doi.org/10.3390/h5020019
  • Kierkegaard, S. (1847/2009), Works of Love (Part II, Chapter IX: The Work of Love in Remembering One Dead, p. 317-330). New York: Harper & Collins Publishers.
  • Martin, E. (2007). Bipolar Expeditions: Mania and Depression in American Culture. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Mellor, P. A., & Shilling, C. (1993). Modernity, Self-Identity and the Sequstration of Death. Sociology, 27(3), 411–431.
  • Pallesen, C. (2015), “A Questioning Lament: Trajectories of Biblical Poetry and Intepretive Prose in Psalm 22 and in the Passion of Mark as a Hegelian Moment in Paul Ricoeur’s Philosophy of Religion”, In: Block Ingolf U. Dalferth og Marlene A. the Legacy of Paul Ricoeur Hermeneutik und Religionsphilosophie (Tübingen Mohr Siebeck 2015).
  • Ricoeur, Paul, ”Ninth Study The Self and Practical Wisdom” Oneself as Another (Chicago/London 1992), 240-296.
  • Ricoeur, Paul, “Evil, a Challenge to Philosophy and Theology” Figuring the Sacred, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press 1995) 249-261.
  • Rosenblum, Rachel, ”Distancing Emotion  Surviving the Account of Catastrophe”, Passions in Context International Journal for the History and theory of emotions No 2. Atrocities-emotion-Self  
  • Ruin, H. (2018). Being with the Dead: Burial, Ancestral Politics, and the Roots of Historical Consciousness. Stanford Univeristy Press.
  • Svenaeus, F. (2018). Phenomenological Bioethics: Medical Technologies, Human Suffering, and the Meaning of Being Alive. London: Routledge, chapter 1-4.
  • Willig, R. & Vetlesen, A. J., What will we reply? (forthcomming) 
  • Wilkinson, I. (2005), Suffering: A Sociological Introduction

 

________________

Qualitative studies 

Call for papers: Special issue on Suffering in Contemporary Society 

As human beings, we suffer. Suffering, in its myriad of forms, pervades our entire lives. In this sense, suffering unites; “… unless suffering is the direct and immediate object of life, our existence must entirely fail of its aim.” (Schopenhauer, 1981, p. 45). Everyone suffers. We’re all in this together. On the other hand, we are not. There are vital aspects of ‘unshareability’ at the existential core of suffering that makes it my “ownmost” (Heidegger, 1927). Løgstrup (1956) describes the unshareable otherness of the Other as a “blessed loneliness” (p. 149), arguing that it is through this unshareability that the need to attest our inner experiences and articulate these through language or actions emerges. It is thus the unshareability of suffering that creates the active need to connect with others through an attempt to share. Further, cultural, socio-economic and religious aspects of suffering necessarily make it an historical phenomenon that emerges in particular ways and which must be handled in particular ways depending on the nature of suffering and the practices that emerge to deal with it. 

In this special issue, we wish to investigate contemporary forms of suffering in an interdisciplinary attempt to unite “the community of those who have nothing in common” (Lingis, 1994) other than, perhaps, suffering. We encourage scholars from all disciplines that are doing work related to suffering to contribute to this special issue on a topic that simultaneously unites and divides us all. The twentieth century (in Isiah Berlin’s words “the most terrible century in human history”) witnessed previously unseen forms of organized human cruelty and the wounds of Holocaust remain open. The twenty-first century is so far marked by climate change, refugee crisis and terrorism on a global scale - leaving none of us unaffected. Our health care systems, schools and workplaces are imprinted with various type of problems that cannot be distinguished from broader “social pathologies”. Stress- and depression rates are constantly increasing and so it seems we are still suffering on a number of levels.

Our time is often described as excluding negativity in various forms and because of this, we have lost a ”language of suffering” (Brinkmann, 2014). Previously authorized moral, existential and religious frameworks for understanding and conceptualizing suffering have been replaced by biomedical and diagnostic discourses. Even though coming to terms with this ‘temporal aporia’ (Ricoeur, 1995) is an impossible endeavor, we would - in line with the spirit of Qualitative Studies - like to encourage contributions from both humanistic, social science and health sciences that take the task seriously to formulate responses to various forms of suffering outside of symptom-based and casual categories. We are looking for papers that address, but are not necessarily limited to, the following topics and questions:

Suffering and culture: In the wake of both Marx, Freud, Weber and Becker who all point to a dialectical relationship between suffering and culture as such: what can suffering tell us about contemporary society?

Existential and cultural aspect of suffering: How are the existential universals of death, grief and the like socioculturally mediated and represented?

The normativity of suffering: To what extent should one be against suffering? Are there ways of suffering that are “good”?

Medicalization and Pathologization: What consequences do the increase in the medicalization of human conditions have for our understanding of suffering? 

Suffering and pain: They remain distinct but related. On a conceptual level: how are they related? On a practical/clinical level: how is does the experience, mediation, representation and expression of pain linger on contemporary society?

Workplace: How is the contemporary workplace a source of – or remedy for various forms of suffering? And what role does the work/home balance play here?

Child care and schools: What aspects of suffering are relevant in these domains?

Climate change: What new forms of suffering does climate change and the accelerated extinction of species and ecological systems give rise to?

Suffering and technology: What impact does social media and modern technologies have on our experience of and dealings with suffering? 

Non-human suffering: Do animals suffer? Trees? Things? Does a planet suffer? And in case so, what are the implications for ethics, politics and law? 

The role of academia: In which ways (if any) do or should research and academic publishing inform and nuance living with suffering?

Autoethnographic accounts of suffering

 

Full paper deadline: July 1, 2020.

Instructions for authors: https://tidsskrift.dk/qual/about

For any questions, please contact the Editors: Alfred Bordado Sköld: alfred@hum.aau.dk or Peter Clement Lund: pclement@hum.aau.dk