The Politics of the Prescription Pad is a working group and event series at Brown University, supported by the Pembroke Center Faculty Seed Grants and the Paul Kazarian Arts Special Purpose Fund.

Our central research question asks how the management of pain functions across social boundaries, in the hospital and in the home. From the broader question of how cultural, racial, and gendered norms affect pain pharmacology, we have sought specific questions that foreground diverse modes of understanding human difference. What roles do nation, language, and personal history play in patient expectations?  In drug development? How do these same factors shape the options and actions of physicians, nurses, and pharmacists? How do different religious traditions metaphorize suffering: is it a sign of virtue, or the wages of sin?  What distinguishes “drug seeking behavior” from “real” pain in the eyes of healthcare providers? What conditions determine the prescription of antidepressants vs. analgesics? How do social class and racial identity alter access to and uses of pain medication?  What role does gender identity, disability, or age play in the definition of chronic pain? What biases and economic pressures define hospital pain formularies, and how or why might we want them to change? How do representations of the body in pain affect our treatment of illness and how does that treatment, in turn, shape our practices of representation? 

In approaching these questions we will place recent work in medical history, anthropology, and cultural studies alongside current research in academic medicine, pharmacy, and psychology. We understand this project as an intervention in the field of critical medical humanities, a field that draws upon the insights of critical race studies, queer studies, disability studies, feminist analysis, and postcolonial critique to understand and intervene in contemporary healthcare.

We hope our journal club and lecture series will bring together humanists, social scientists, and allied health professionals to foster conversations on this important aspect of human health and wellbeing. Our monthly meetings and public events aim to generate interdisciplinary discussions and a range of potential outcomes with opportunity for impact in the university, the hospital system, and the diverse communities of Rhode Island.