Call Literary Explorations of Health and Kinship


In this special issue, we will work from the idea that literature can provide us with a privileged vantage point for an interdisciplinary investigation into the intersections of health and kinship. We wish to examine the roles played by next of kin or pårørende in our cultural conceptions of health, and the many ways in which literature witnesses, shapes or informs these conceptions.


In recent years, den pårørende has become a prominent figure in Scandinavian literature across genres, addressing the complex social, political, and emotional relations that constitute our cultural conceptions of health, care, and kinship. Where English distinguishes between next of kin and (informal) caregivers, the Danish term pårørende is used in both contexts. The noun stems from the verb pårøre, “touch, concern, stand close to, be in family with.”1 In the context of the law, the term denotes informal caregivers holding certain rights and duties within the health care system. However, pårørende is commonly used about any person considered close to someone who is sick, has suffered an accident, or died. This includes parents, children, and spouses or partners, but also friends and neighbors or – in times of crises – entire groups or populations. The term implies an understanding of being close to someone's illness, trauma or death not just as standing “next to” or be “in family with” (next of kin), or “caring for” (caregiver), but also as “being touched or affected by,” and thus connotes relationality, intersubjectivity and interdependency as well as (ethical) responsibility.


The complexity of the pårørende figure, and the cultural and social roles assigned to it, makes it an interesting vantage point for literary explorations into health and kinship. How, for instance, does the figure of the pårørende relate to that of the patient, or a “pårørende literature” to established genres and fields of study such as the pathography, illness fictions, or narrative and graphic medicine?


In several recent works from scholars within Health/Medical Humanities, caregiving is a key perspective. Literary scholar David Morris’ Eros and Illness (2017), anthropologist Arthur Kleinman’s The Soul of Care (2019), and sociologist Arthur Frank’s “vulnerable reading” of King Lear (2022), have in common that they take personal experiences with caregiving as their vantage point for reflections on themes such as illness, care, ethics, art, and medicine. Health and kinship are also themes that can be related to a broader interest in human interdependencies within the Humanities, related to concepts such as care (Kittay & Feder 2002; Puig de Bellacasa, 2017; The Care Collective 2021) vulnerability (Fineman 2004, 2008) and precarity (Butler 2006, 2009), as well as in the potential insights and reparative uses of literature in the context of health and kinship (Berman 2020; DeFalco 2016; Gefen 2017; Nesby 2021). What is the place of literature and literary criticism in this context, and how can we approach health and kinship through, in, and by literary works, theories and methods?



We invite contributions that address one or more of the following questions:


  • How is the next of kin or pårørende narrated, portrayed and/or thematized in literature, including children’s and young adult literature and graphic literature?
  • What are the existential, ethical, moral, or political frameworks in which these figures are set, and how do they relate to our cultural conceptions of health and kinship?
  • What kind of knowledge of health, care, and kinship is literature particularly suitable to convey?
  • How can literary works and the insights they provide on health and kinship become meaningful or even useful in a health perspective or within healthcare services?


We particularly seek interdisciplinary perspectives and invite contributions related to fields such as narrative medicine, health/medical humanities, graphic medicine, care ethics philosophy, cultural studies, comparative literature and more. While our primary context is Scandinavian contemporary literature, we also welcome contributions providing historical and/or international literary perspectives on health and kinship.



Guest editors


Silje Haugen Warberg, Associate professor, Department of Language and Literature, NTNU.

Ingvild Hagen Kjørholt, Associate professor, Department of Teacher Education, NTNU.

Tatjana Samoilow Kielland, Associate professor, Department of Teacher Education, NTNU.


Contributions and deadlines

1st of June 2023: Deadline for submitting abstracts, max. 250 words. Send to: Silje Haugen Warberg (silje.war


5-6 October 2023: The guest editors organize a seminar/workshop in Paris to which contributors will be invited. It will be possible to contribute to the issue without participating in the workshop.


1st of March 2024: Deadline for submitting paper to TFSS, start of peer review process.



Submission guidelines


The language of this issue will be English. Contributors must ensure that their final drafts are proofread.




Questions can be directed to guest editor Silje Haugen Warberg,



Berman, Jeffrey. 2020. The Art of Caregiving in Fiction, Film, and Memoir. Bloomsbury: Bloomsbury Publishing

Butler, Judith. 2006. Precarious life: The powers of mourning and violence. New York: Verso.

Butler, Judith. 2009. Frames of war: When is life grievable? New York: Verso.

DeFalco, Amelia 2016. Imagining Care: Responsibility, Dependency, and Canadian Literature. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Fineman, Martha. 2004. The autonomy myth: A theory of dependency. New York: The New Press.

Fineman, Martha. 2008. The vulnerable subject: Anchoring equality in the human condition. In: Yale Journal of Law and Feminism 20 (1): 1–24.

Frank, Arthur. 2022. King Lear. Shakespeare’s Dark Consolations. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gefen, Alexandre. 2017. Réparer le monde : La littérature française face au xxie siècle. Paris: José Corti.

Kleinman, Arthur. 2019. The Soul of Care. The Moral Education of a Husband and a Doctor. London: Penguin.

Kittay, Eva Feder & Ellen K. Feder (red.). 2002. The Subject of Care. Feminist Perspectives on Dependency. New York: Rowman and Littlefield.

The Care Collective. 2020. The Care Manifesto. The Politics of Interdependence. New York: Verso.

Morris, David B. 2017. Eros and Illness. Harvard: Harvard University Press.

Nesby, Linda. 2021. Sinne, samhold og kjendiser. Sykdomsskildringer i skandinavisk samtidslitteratur. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.

Puig de la Bellacasa, Maria. (2017). Matters of Care. Speculative Ethics in More than Human Worlds. University of Minnesota Press.