Special Issue: Narratives of Care, Caring Materials, and Materializing Care in the 19th, 20th & 21st Century

deadline for submissions: 
October 15, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
Journal of Medical Humanities
contact email: 

Special Issue: Narratives of Care, Caring Materials, and Materializing Care in the 19th, 20th and 21st Century

This special issue for the Journal of Medical Humanities explores how the art of storytelling and narratives can inform our understanding of the role materials play in care and how the art of care has evolved from the nineteenth to twentieth century, specifically, in terms of its caregiving objects. In Essential Care: An Ethics of Human Nature, Leonard Boff describes the myth of Goddess Cura who takes up clay while crossing the river and gives it a proper shape. Jupiter sees her engrossed in the task of shaping a figure and grants Cura’s wish to breathe life into her creation. Once the creature comes to life, Cura, Jupiter, and the Earth start fighting over its ownership. The fight is only resolved when Saturn states that Cura shall be with the creature as long as they live, and Jupiter shall receive the spirit after the creature’s death. The creature is named Homo Sapien after the Earth – who offered the creative material to Cura. In this myth, materiality plays a role in demonstrating how care shapes the entire human lifespan. Taking storytelling and narratives as a starting point, our special issue will probe the role and representations of materials and objects in clinical care communication and caring relationships.  

We seek articles that engage with narratives about objects of care from interdisciplinary perspectives in the C19th, C20th and C21st. As DeFalco (2016) writes, ‘[n]arrative representation shows its readers care in action’ (8). In some narratives, these actions are mediated and illuminated by materials and objects, in others a narrative might be told through unconventional materials and objects. Narratives might even be created in what is not said, as Samuel Beckett (1951) writes in Molloy: ‘to restore silence is the role of objects’ (13-14). For Gordon (1997), fictions can ‘play an important role in [making our social world] for the simple reason that they enable other kinds of sociological information to emerge’ (25). By fictions, Gordon does not only mean literature but an ‘ensemble of cultural imaginings, affective experiences, animated objects, marginal voices, narrative densities and eccentric traces of power’s presence’ (25). As such, we intend to invite abstracts for papers that focus on the interdisciplinary understanding of the materiality and objects of care. We are interested in bringing together disciplines that broadly centre narrative in multiple ways, be that through texts and archives, aesthetics and artistic production, medical and clinical practice, and social sciences. Interdisciplinary approaches might see writers and artists employ a performance studies lens to shape anthropological arguments about clinical care objects; visual artists using a medical lens to explore the role of arts in health; or literary studies using a lens of medical sociology to examine objects of care. We wonder: can objects themselves provide care? How do medical practitioners practically use novels, narratives, and storytelling in their work? And can creative methods help ameliorate the patient experience, and improve the process of care in the clinical setting?               

Objects and materials inform many parts of clinical care: the interaction of the patients with clinical spaces begins at the waiting rooms wherein they fill up their forms, spend hours meditating on their anxiety and fears about the clinical condition, staring at the paintings on the walls, or the plants in the corner of the room, absorbing the smell of the environment thinking whether they need to get used to it. The ‘Materialities of Care’ network has explored how fields including museum studies, architecture, activism and design centre objects and artefacts to represent, understand and mediate everyday experiences of health and social care. As Buse, Martin and Nettleton (2018) suggest ‘materialities are not merely a backdrop for care interactions, but play an active role in constituting relations of care.’ Turning to literary and cultural narratives, we further explore the representations and uses of such objects and artefacts in the imaginative realm, to understand how the sensory experience of a materiality of care can impact the caregiver and the care-recipient in the clinical and non-clinical care environment. In this issue, we intend to ask the following questions: (1) Can objects be efficient caregivers? (2) How might objects of care (technological or non-technological) change our perception of care and care relationships? (3) What are the limitations and strengths of exploring the materiality of care and its narrative representations?

Topics included here are not limited to:

  • Novels and literary narratives that centre and represent objects of care
  • Examining case histories as literary objects of care

  • Examining books as objects of narrative care

  • Interpreting literary representation of surgical procedures, surgical instruments, etc.

  • Examining the representation of the materiality of care in newspapers, radio and television programmes, etc. For instance, evolution of pediatric prosthetics after the Thalidomide tragedy, history of contraceptive pills, etc.

  • Analysis of the archives on the history of objects of care.

  • Artistic narrativization of objects of care. For instance, sculptures or paintings of objects of care.

  •  Why do we talk about the materiality of care in the first place, to what extent are we relying on objects?

  • Are objects replacing human care? 

  • Narratives of shame and stigma for using certain objects of care. For instance, sanitary napkins for menstrual hygiene, vibrators for sexual care, etc.

  • Ethical questions about using some objects of care. For instance, usage of Copper T, etc.  

  • How do medical practitioners use literature in their practical work? Can Narrative Medicine help ameliorate the patient experience,and  improve the process of care in the clinical setting?

  • Examining narratives about the objects/ materials used by the medical practitioners for self-care.

  • Narratives of objects of care in the medical museums turning museums into spaces for care

  • Understanding tactile care in relation to objects in world literature, folk songs, art works, etc.

We are looking for abstracts of 250 words, 4-6 keywords and a short bio by 15th October 2022. Once the authors receive the formal acceptance they will be invited to write the articles of 6000-7000 words excluding references and abstract by 1st February 2023. Send abstracts to Swati Joshi and Jade E. French at objectsofcare@gmail.com