CfP – Pain and Old Age


Public Conference: 27 October 2012

The Birkbeck Pain Project and the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities

Birkbeck, University of London

Organised by Visiting Fellow to the Birkbeck Pain Project, Prof. Lynn Botelho (Department of History, Indiana University of Pennsylvania)

According to the British Pain Society, ‘pain is not a normal part of ageing’ (2008). Yet for generations of older people, pain was something that was intimately tied to the ageing process. For many, it was the body in pain that signalled their entry into old age. Furthermore, the elderly have not wanted to be a ‘burden’ to their families, friends, and support systems, and consequently they often endured pain with a quiet acceptance. When did this relationship between pain and old age undergo such a profound and fundamental shift? Or, did it? Were the elderly in the past always quietly accepting of the aches and pains of a physically declining body? Or did they fight against pain and the very real physical, emotional, and familial restrictions that chronic pain can impose?

This one-day conference explores the nature of pain in old age between the 18th and the 20th centuries. It explicitly does so through the lens of the humanities, rather than hard sciences. The conference strives to be wide-ranging in terms of disciplines, methodologies, and approaches. In doing so, it seeks to engage both panellists and audience in discussion, dialogue, and debate. Our aim is to facilitate new ways of thinking about both the nature of pain and what it meant to be old.

Possible paper topics might include, but are not limited to

  • Pain, old age and social relationships (partner, children, friends, neighbours)
  • Pain and sexual relations
  • The philosophy of pain
  • Pain and the ageing self
  • Pain as a marker of old age
  • Pain, piety, and religion
  • Representations of pain and old age in literature, art, and autobiography
  • Pain as a mechanism of self-fashioning
  • Pain clustering and the loci of pain, including physical, emotional, and spiritual pain
  • The elderly’s engagement with medicine and medical practitioners
  • The medical community’s response to pain in the old

Please send a 300-500 word abstract and a short C.V. by email to Lynn Botelho ( by 1 June 2012.

More information regarding the The Birkbeck Pain Project is available here.

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