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Social Philosophy Today

Volume 35, 2019

Health, Well-Being, and Society

David J. Leichter
Pages 59-73
DOI: 10.5840/socphiltoday201981263

Communication Breakdown
Probing the Limits of Narrative Medicine and its Discontents

The turn to narrative in biomedicine has been one of the most important alternatives to traditional approaches to bioethics. Rather than using ethical theories and principles to guide behavior, narrative ethics uses the moral imagination to cultivate and expand one’s capacities for empathy. This paper argues that by themselves narratives do not, and cannot, fully capture the range of the illness experience. But more than that, the emphasis on narrative often obscures how dominant forms of narrative discourse often operate to marginalize those whose narratives fall outside the parameters of traditional narrative forms or whose stories are occluded by structural violence and oppression. Rather, by focusing on forms of embodiment that are irreducible to narrative discursivity, this paper highlights forms of selfhood that exist outside of the narrative self.

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