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Attending to Aliveness: Self-Harm, Body and World in Contexts of Urban Homelessness.

Authors
  • Burraway, Joshua1
  • 1 Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia, 820 Belmont Avenue, Charlottesville, VA, 22902, USA. [email protected]
Type
Published Article
Journal
Culture Medicine and Psychiatry
Publisher
Springer-Verlag
Publication Date
Jun 01, 2021
Volume
45
Issue
2
Pages
282–311
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1007/s11013-020-09687-1
PMID: 33030644
Source
Medline
Keywords
Language
English
License
Unknown

Abstract

The DSM-5 proposes that self-harm be recognized as a diagnostic category of mental disease, compared to its previous definition as a behavioral symptom. Based on fieldwork in London, I challenge this proposal by exploring the life-history of a homeless sex-worker and substance-user who practices self-cutting. By bringing phenomenological anthropology into conversation with psychoanalytic theory, this article provisionally re-conceptualizes self-harm as an ethics of self-reparation and existential affirmation in the face of extreme precarity. Approached as an agentive practice through which human beings reclaim "somethingness" by altering their bodily conditions, we can conceive self-harm in a way that is attentive to the situational conditions that shape existential pain, instead of reaching straight for the diagnostic toolkit. In taking self-harm as simultaneously a reaction to and a reflection on existential crisis-rather than a sui generis disorder-this paper situates such practices as a pluralized condition-of-world rather than a bounded pathology-of-mind.

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