Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 64 (2):211-234 (2021)

Elizabeth Lanphier
Cincinnati Children's Hospital
Narrative is now a commonly used term in medical education, ethics, and practice. Yet the concept of narrative defies singular definition, and definitional and functional pluralism about narrative in health care remains underappreciated. Diverse conceptualizations of narrative are generically grouped under umbrella terms like “medical humanities” or “narrative medicine.” Such broad grouping risks undermining attention to relevant differences in use, meaning, or theory of narrative, overestimating the scope of certain criticisms of narrative practice or use, while overlooking more insidious concerns. This essay moves toward a conceptual clarification of narrative in medicine through a process of naming and sorting. Narrative conceptualizations are grouped into narrative premises which include descriptive and normative claims about narrative, and narrative practices, which put narrative into action as process, method, or tool. A philosophical pragmatist approach to narrative in medicine reworks narrative anxieties about fact and fiction, truth or falsehood, in terms of the justifiability of belief, the inclusion or exclusion of experience, and the rationality of practices that are never perfect and always up for revision.
Keywords Narrative  Narrative Practices  Narrative Theory  Medical Humanities  Pragmatism  Narrative Medicine
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DOI 10.1353/pbm.2021.0013
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