Alex Hebler MA Critical Studies Thesis 2021

Laying Down Arms: Metaphor and Phenomenology in Illness and Disability Studies

This paper draws critical attention to the role of metaphor when describing illness, disease, and disability. While the primary focus is on military metaphors in medicine, disability as metaphor is also considered throughout, revealing the impact metaphor has on how we conceptualize embodied experiences. Shorter sections on cognitive metaphor theory and phenomenology provide context for what North American and UK medical professionals, literary and disability scholars, and critical medical humanities scholars argue about the use of metaphor when describing illness and disease. It is evident that the language we use is commonly rooted in the idea of a universal, normative phenomenology, even when describing nonnormative experiences (eg, illness and/or disability). Ultimately, this paper takes up the frameworks of critical disability studies and critical medical humanities and calls for two things: 1) a more integrated approach to language and medicine, especially surrounding diagnosis conversations, and 2) a more individualized perspective to illness narratives, allowing personal experience to play a larger role than compulsive military metaphors allow for.  

Keywords: illness, disability, cognitive metaphor theory, phenomenology, critical disability studies, critical medical humanities  

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