Pain incarnate: a narrative exploration of self-injury and embodiment.
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This thesis comprises a narrative exploration of the lived experience of being someone who has self-injured. Self-injury, like pain, emotions, sensation and social life, is understood and examined as inherently embodied. The thesis is intended to contribute to sociological approaches to the study of embodiment and to sociological understandings of self-injury. Twelve participants were recruited in non-clinical sites. The sample was heterogeneous in terms of their experience of self-injury, contact with medical and psychiatric services, socio-economic background, household type, age and sexuality. Both men and women were interviewed in an attempt to counter the relative neglect of men in previous research. Two interviews were carried out with each participant: the first was a life-story interview, while the second explored self-injury more directly. The approach to data collection and analysis was intended to be collaborative, and comprised both narrative and thematic techniques. The thesis demonstrates the importance of studying self-injury as an embodied, socially situated and socially mediated behaviour. An embodied approach underlines the importance of the visibility of self-injury. The existence of visible marks and scars created by self-injury were important aspects of the lived experience of participants. The ways in which these marks were negotiated in social life represented a key focus of analysis. My analysis reveals the importance and utility of attending to the practical and material aspects of self-injury in attempting to understand the behaviour. I highlight the diverse ways in which self-injury is practised, and the equally various meanings and understandings it holds for practitioners A variety of complex and contradictory justifications for self-injury are critically examined. These justifications share a concern with pain, incarnate, suggesting that self-injury is: a method of transforming emotional pain into physical pain; a way of relieving emotional pain; painful; painless; attention-seeking; private. A sociological, narrative analysis illuminates the ways in which these understandings and justifications can be located within biographical, interpersonal and socio-cultural contexts. By locating these justifications within socio-cultural contexts, the complexities and contradictions of the accounts become understandable. My analysis confirms the importance of attending to socio-cultural understandings of bodies, emotions, authenticity and morality in exploring narratives about self-injury.