David B. Morris’ The Culture of Pain (1991) offers the reader a wide reaching exploration of medical and cultural approaches to pain and its management. Foundational to his book is Morris’ argument that the then-contemporary biomedical approach to pain was grounded in a mechanistic ontology of the human body. Morris argues that this biomedical approach is ill-equipped to deal with pain because of pain is simultaneously physiological, psychological, social, and cultural. In interrogating this claim, Morris explores a great many conceptions of and approaches to pain as described in a broad literary corpus. Morris demonstrates how pain was differently understood in different societies, cultures, and times. He explores work as far ranging as tribal narratives, the Christian bible, and the writings of the Marquis de Sade. In so doing Morris seeks to demonstrate how a patient’s experience of pain is inextricably tied to his or her social, cultural, and psychological history.
Throughout this broad sweeping exploration of the cultural dimensions of pain, Morris contrasts these elucidated perspectives with biomedical accounts of pain. He highlights conceptions of pain drawn from medical history, practical manuals, journal articles, and disciplinary organizations. In so doing Morris seeks to highlight how the biomedical conceptions of pain are rooted in the modernist division of body and mind and then relegated entirely to the body. Through providing this contrast Morris argues that the modernist biomedical conception of pain needs to be supplanted by a postmodern pain that recognizes the plural social, cultural, psychological, and physiological natures of pains. Morris suggests that the adoption of a postmodern pain in medicine is need to foster more effective and compassionate patient care.