Accepted paper:

Non-Suicidal Self-Injury as multiple: Privileging practice over bodies


Emily Kirbyson (University of Lethbridge)

Paper short abstract:

The self-wounded body, as in the case of Non-Suicidal Self-Injury (NSSI), is oft produced as pathological. Studying multiple enactments of NSSI might place some versions of it it outside the pathological/healthy binary, decreasing rates of intervention and making needed intervention more flexible.

Paper long abstract:

Non-Suicidal Self-Injury (NSSI), the practice of inflicting harm on one's own bodily tissues (e.g. cutting) without suicidal intent, has not been addressed by STS scholars. It has, however, been a topic of inquiry in medicine and psychiatry, where NSSI is described as a women's problem and is distinctly pathologized. This understanding of NSSI is not the product of scientific discovery but is achieved through strategies that make the multiple versions of NSSI cohere. In this paper, I will craft various scenarios from a small body of the literature on NSSI toward imagining how it gets done or is defined differently, through a range of technologies, in various sites. NSSI might in one moment be a gash requiring stitches, while at another, a useful tool for managing negative emotions. Instead of beginning with 'the body,' I will follow Annemarie Mol (2002) who contends that when we attend to practice, multiplicity comes to the fore and the whole body becomes less obvious. It is only in a context in which 'the body' is taken to be singular and bound by skin that 'harmed bodies' can be considered non-conforming. Beginning with the practices founded on normative assumptions about health that make bodies emerge as pathological opens up possibilities for positioning NSSI outside of the pathological/healthy dualism, potentially decreasing rates of intervention. It also illustrates the incoherence of NSSI in practice and, following Mol (2002), I contend that this will contribute to the flexibility and versatility of medicine and psychiatry.

panel T057
Non-conforming bodies: an exploration of public health knowledge, practice and technologies beyond 'the body'