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Knowing Pain: A History of Sensation, Emotion, and Experience
Rob Boddice
Polity Press / Hardcover / Jul 2023
9781509550548 (ISBN-10: 1509550542)
Emotions / History
price: $42.00
272 pages
In Stock (Ships within one business day)

Pain, while known to almost everyone, is not universal. The evidence of our own pain, and our own experience, does not provide us with automatic insight into the pains of others, past or present. No matter how self-evident and ubiquitous the sting of a paper cut or the desolation of heartbreak might seem, pain is situated and historically specific.

In a work that is sometimes personal, always political, Rob Boddice reveals a history of pain that juggles many disciplinary approaches and disparate languages to tackle the thorniest challenges in pain research. He explores the shifting meaning-making processes that produce painful experiences, expanding the world of pain to take seriously the relationship between pain’s physicality and social and emotional suffering. Ranging from antiquity to the present and taking in pain knowledge and pain experiences from around the world, his tale encompasses not only injury, but also grief, exclusion, chronic pain, and trauma, and reveals how knowledge claims about pain occupy what pain is like.

Innovative and compassionate in equal measure, Knowing Pain puts forward an original pain agenda that is essential reading for those interested in the history of emotions, senses, and experience, for medical researchers and practitioners, and for anyone who has known pain.


‘How can we know the pain of others? If we have no access to their suffering, how can we hope to alleviate it? By an astute and complex analysis of the ways people experienced distress in the past and continue to do so in the present, Rob Boddice reflects on such questions. It will change the way we think about pain.’
—Joanna Bourke, Birkbeck, University of London

‘Boddice illuminates the history of pain, one of the most fundamental biological mechanisms and cultural experiences of humankind. It is a rich history of the experience of pain, but also a history of its different conceptualizations, our ways of studying it, and its social dimensions. This is a book that will captivate scholars and scientists across disciplines.’
—Manos Tsakiris, Royal Holloway, University of London

‘ambitious history of pain’

About the Author:

Rob Boddice is a Senior Research Fellow at the Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence in the History of Experiences (HEX) at Tampere University.

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