This October 2015, Johns Hopkins University Press is slated to release Keith Wailoo’s Pain: A Political History. Wailoo’s book examines how the definition of chronic pain in the United States developed and changed alongside broader political and economic changes. The book begins with the culture of treatment following World War II, when public and political attitudes towards pain considered physical suffering real and potentially disabling. With decreasing support of disability programs throughout the 1980s, however, the validity and legitimacy of chronic pain came under question.
New conversations beginning in the 1990s about euthanasia reinvigorated the conversation surrounding pain, no doubt bolstered today by current discussions of medical marijuana laws and the burgeoning use of prescription painkillers for recreation purposes. This renewed interest in the nature and the extent of pain have enlivened the debate around who experiences pain, how we certify pain, and at what point pain requires medical intervention.
The book strives to illuminate the historical foundations of today’s contemporary pain medication and treatment market, particularly in terms of the liberal and conservative political trends between the 1950s and today. Wailoo’s account culminates with an exploration of the contemporary state of pain care: a severe imbalance between the overmedicated and the underserved who cannot access treatment for their chronic pain. Pain: A Political History will certainly prove insightful for historians of medicine as well as political-economic medical anthropologists, theorists of neoliberalism, and medical anthropologists carrying out research in the United States.
Wailoo is Professor of History and Public Affairs as well as the Vice Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.
To learn more about the book, click on JHU Press’ page here: https://jhupbooks.press.jhu.edu/content/pain