, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 123-128
Date: 09 Feb 2014

Hysteria

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Abstract.

Hysteria, as it involves the medical profession, is a form of sickness that is defined as being without disease or illness. This lack of a biomedical explanation has limited progress in its understanding. In this essay we propose that hysteria might be better thought of as a form of pretending, elaborated in transaction with the medical system. In medicine, to pretend usually means to deceive. From the perspective of play, however, pretend is a state more akin to acting, magic, belief, and hypnosis. We provide a number of reasons why sickness is an attractive focus for pretending. We show how enactments of sickness can be scripted by a group of involved persons, each contributing from their own perspective, as occurs in the parlour game of ‘Consequences’, except in hysteria the consequences are often dire.

Accepted: 6 December 2001