Bodies and Language: Health, Ailments, Disabilities

Author: Vaidehi Ramanathan

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Multilingual Matters
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210mm x 148mm

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This book critically addresses the role of language in our collective construction of 'normal' bodies. Addressing a range of concerns linked with visible and invisible, chronic and terminal conditions, the volume probes issues in and around patient and caregiver accounts. Focussing on body conditions associated with breast cancer, Alzheimer's disease, (type-1) diabetes, epilepsy, partial hearing and autism, the book draws on a range of critical theories to contest collectively assembled notions of 'abnormality,' 'disability' and 'impairments.' It also addresses the need for applied sociolinguists to take account of how our researching practices - the texts we produce, the orientations we assume, the theoretical grounds from which we proceed-- create 'meanings' about bodies and 'normalcy,' and the importance of remaining ever vigilant and civically responsible in what we do or claim to do.

Over the last couple of years, Ramanathan has played a leading role in developing a critical and nuanced approach to language and health complementing the dominant psycholinguistic approaches to health and the body. In this book she demonstrates her expertise with a balanced review of literature on the body from different disciplines from different parts of the world. Her sensitivity to perspectives on the body grounded in diverse settings enriches her book. The book is written in a very accessible and is theory rich which will clearly enhance its value to a large community of readers across the globe. I strongly recommend the book to scholars interested in the rapidly developing field of the body, language and health.

In the field of applied linguistics, health issues have traditionally been examined from an outsider perspective, as something that happens to others, and is negotiated in conversations between disembodied doctors and patients. Ramanathan's ground-breaking book turns the scholarly gaze inwards reminding us that our collective sense of normalcy is but an illusion and our bodies are a material reality. Weaving critical, poststructuralist and psychoanalytic theories together with first-person experiences of illness and disability, the author analyzes ways in which bodily and linguistic breakdowns are discursively constructed by the experiencers and ways in which societal discourses dehumanize our bodies. Raising the veil of silence that until now surrounded body issues and body functions in our field, this profound, touching, and deeply human book creates a new discursive space and provides strong impetus for further inquiry into the relationship between bodies, languages, and identities.

This truly fascinating book draws our attention to the materiality of bodies and illness while analyzing manifold personal accounts and experiences. Although we all experience our bodies and feelings via language and although our feelings are socially categorized and 'disciplined', materiality as the author rightly argues and indeed proves - remains salient. Illness and disabilities are not only discursive constructions, they impinge on human beings in very different material ways. This both theoretically and empirically innovative research presents the range of hegemonic and alternative reactions to ailment, disability and body breakdowns in our societies, reaching from gendered forms of exclusion to policies and 'dis-citizenship'.

Each of the seven chapters in this short, quietly explosive book leads the reader further away from the details of constructions of identity, illness, and disability and into a thicket of new and disturbing questions about social and linguistic constructions of ailments and disabilities in general, particularly those that are not physically apparent...New questions grow steadily from those Ramanathan raises; this review can barely scratch the surface.

Language in Society 40:4 (2011)

The book skilfully brings together the parallel strands of illness and impairments of the mind and body and how they are 'Ianguaged' by society and the medical profession. Throughout, the author emphasises the importance of researchers keeping their practices honest and transparent. All 136 pages are crammed full of applied sociolinguistic terminology and discourse, critically analysing current narratives on models of disability and normalcy, which makes for a thought·provoking and fascinating read.

Speech and Language Therapy in Practice, Autumn 2011

In my opinion, this work stands out as a sincere attempt to humanize the role of language in conceptualizing our notions of (ab)normal in society. Given the rich accounts of those afflicted with health conditions, Ramanathan succeeds in identifying theoretical and methodological tensions that may serve as rich areas for contestation and exploration. More importantly, the work allows scholars to find ways to genuinely create possibilities by looking at how discourses shape and often marginalize our understandings of the social dimensions of disease and disability. Indeed, this book is an exemplary work that uses applied sociolinguistics in achieving transformative ends.

Discourse Studies 14(3), 2012

Vaidehi Ramanathan is a professor of applied sociolinguistics in the department of linguistics at the University of California, Davis. Her previous publications include: Alzheimer Discourse: Some Sociolinguistics Dimensions (LEA 1997), The Politics of TESOL Education: Writing, Knowledge, critical pedagogy (2002, Routledge), and The English-Vernacular Divide: Postcolonial Language Politics and Practice (Multilingual Matters, 2005).

Chapter 1: Introduction: Why bodies matter

Chapter 2: On metaprescriptive utterances: cancer, breasts, and gazes

Chapter 3: Scripting selves: (auto) bio-graphical writing of Alzheimer patients and caregivers

Chapter 4: Poststructuralist discourses and chronic ailments: diabetes, epilepsy and body breakdowns

Chapter 5: Communication challenges: autism, partial hearing and parental choices

Chapter 6: Texts and meaning-making: critical revisitations in disability-related research

Chapter 7: Critical ailment research in applied socio-linguistics: power, perception, and social change

Postgraduate, Research / Professional, Text
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