Call for papers: Suffering in Contemporary Society 


As human beings, we suffer. Suffering, in its myriad of forms, pervades our entire lives. In this sense, suffering unites; “… unless suffering is the direct and immediate object of life, our existence must entirely fail of its aim.” (Schopenhauer, 1981, p. 45). Everyone suffers. We’re all in this together. On the other hand, we are not. There are vital aspects of ‘unshareability’ at the existential core of suffering that makes it my “ownmost” (Heidegger, 1927). Løgstrup (1956) describes the unshareable otherness of the Other as a “blessed loneliness” (p. 149), arguing that it is through this unshareability that the need to attest our inner experiences and articulate these through language or actions emerges. It is thus the unshareability of suffering that creates the active need to connect with others through an attempt to share. Further, cultural, socio-economic and religious aspects of suffering necessarily make it an historical phenomenon that emerges in particular ways and which must be handled in particular ways depending on the nature of suffering and the practices that emerge to deal with it. 

In this special issue, we wish to investigate contemporary forms of suffering in an interdisciplinary attempt to unite “the community of those who have nothing in common” (Lingis, 1994) other than, perhaps, suffering. We encourage scholars from all disciplines that are doing work related to suffering to contribute to this special issue on a topic that simultaneously unites and divides us all. The twentieth century (in Isiah Berlin’s words “the most terrible century in human history”) witnessed previously unseen forms of organized human cruelty and the wounds of Holocaust remain open. The twenty-first century is so far marked by climate change, refugee crisis and terrorism on a global scale - leaving none of us unaffected. Our health care systems, schools and workplaces are imprinted with various type of problems that cannot be distinguished from broader “social pathologies”. Stress- and depression rates are constantly increasing and so it seems we are still suffering on a number of levels.

Our time is often described as excluding negativity in various forms and because of this, we have lost a ”language of suffering” (Brinkmann, 2014). Previously authorized moral, existential and religious frameworks for understanding and conceptualizing suffering have been replaced by biomedical and diagnostic discourses. Even though coming to terms with this ‘temporal aporia’ (Ricoeur, 1995) is an impossible endeavor, we would - in line with the spirit ofQualitative Studies - like to encourage contributions from both humanistic, social science and health sciences that take the task seriously to formulate responses to various forms of suffering outside of symptom-based and casual categories. We are looking for papers that address, but are not necessarily limited to, the following topics and questions: 

Suffering and culture: In the wake of both Marx, Freud, Weber and Becker who all point to a dialectical relationship between suffering and culture as such: what can suffering tell us about contemporary society?

Existential and cultural aspect of suffering: How are the existential universals of death, griefand the like socioculturally mediated and represented?

The normativity of suffering:To what extent should one be against suffering? Are there ways of suffering that are “good”?

Medicalization and Pathologization: What consequences do the increase in the medicalization of human conditions have for our understanding of suffering? 

Suffering and pain: They remain distinct but related. On a conceptual level: how are they related? On a practical/clinical level: how is does the experience, mediation, representation and expression of pain linger on contemporary society?

Workplace: How is the contemporary workplace a source of – or remedy for various forms of suffering? And what role does the work/home balance play here?

Child care and schools: What aspects of suffering are relevant in these domains?

Climate change: What new forms of suffering does climate change and the accelerated extinction of species and ecological systems give rise to?

Suffering and technology: What impact does social media and modern technologies have on our experience of and dealings with suffering? 

Non-human suffering: Do animals suffer? Trees? Things? Does a planet suffer? And in case so, what are the implications for ethics, politics and law? 

The role of academia:In which ways (if any) do or should research and academic publishing inform and nuance living with suffering?

Autoethnographic accounts of suffering


Full paper deadline: July 1, 2020.

Instructions for authors:

For any questions, please contact the Editors: Alfred Bordado Sköld: or Peter Clement Lund: