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Inviting pain? Pain, dualism and embodiment in narratives of self-injury

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Address for correspondence: Amy Chandler, Centre for Research on Families and Relationships, University of Edinburgh, 23 Buccleuch Place, Edinburgh EH8 5LN e-mail: a.chandler@ed.ac.uk

Abstract

The role of pain in the practice of self-injury is not straightforward. Existing accounts suggest that self-injury does not cause ‘physical’ pain, however self-injury is also said to alleviate ‘emotional’ pain by inflicting ‘physical’ pain. This article explores these tensions using sociological theories regarding the socio-cultural and subjective nature of pain. Analysis derives from in-depth, life-story interviews carried out in the UK with people who had self-injured. Findings contribute to on-going debates within social science regarding the nature of pain. Participants’ narratives about pain and self-injury both drew on and challenged dualistic models of embodiment. I suggest that self-injury offers a unique case on which to extend existing theoretical work, which has tended to focus on pain as an unwanted and uninvited entity. In contrast, accounts of self-injury can feature pain as a central aspect of the practice, voluntarily invited into lived experience.

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