Journal of Medical Humanities

, Volume 40, Issue 4, pp 591–605 | Cite as

(Un)bridgeable Chasms?: Doctor-Patient Interactions in Select Graphic Medical Narratives

  • Sathyaraj VenkatesanEmail author
  • Sweetha Saji


Effective doctor patient relationships are predicated on doctors' relational engagement and affective/holistic communication with the patients. On the contrary, the contemporary healthcare and patient-clinician communication are at odds with the desirable professional goals, often resulting in dehumanization and demoralization of patients. Besides denigrating the moral agency of a patient such apathetic interactions and unprofessional approach also affect the treatment and well-being of the sufferer. Foregrounding multifaceted doctor-patient relationships, graphic pathographies are a significant cultural resource which recreate the embodied moment of clinical encounters as they also lay bare qualitative tensions between patient' illness experience with doctor's professional understanding of the same. Taking these cues, the present article drawing theoretical postulates of Rita Charon, Deborah Lupton, and Havi Carel close reads Peter Dunlap-Shohl's My Degeneration: A Journey Through Parkinson's (2015), Brian Fies' Mom's Cancer (2006), and Stan Mack's Janet & Me: An Illustrated Story of Love and Loss (2004) to investigate the nature of doctor-patient relationship vis-à-vis communication and the implications of bad doctoring/communicative practices on patient identity and emotions. Furthermore, the article also examines the aesthetic and functional role of comics in bringing into relief the graphically mediated doctor-patient relationship.


Doctor-patient relationship Graphic medicine Comics Epistemic injustice Communication 



We would like to thank Stan Mack, Brian Fies and Peter Dunlap-Shohl for their many helpful comments and insights on earlier drafts of this article. They generously contributed through their prompt email responses.


1 The 1960s underground comix artists like Robert Crumb, Aline-Komisky Crumb, Justin Green and others made use of this mode of subversion which not only reoriented graphic narration but also introduced novel and significant forms of confessional narratives in comics. In so doing, they refashioned attitudes towards the marginalized and underprivileged in society. To a certain extent, graphic pathographies also utilize modes of humour (such as irony, pun, sarcasm) in order to challenge the assumed infallible status and unquestioned roles of the doctors in an institutionalized setting. (See Kasthuri and Venkatesan 2015).

2 Havi Carel (2016) borrows the term “epistemic injustice” from the philosopher Miranda Fricker to refer to the injustice caused by “biases and negative stereotypes about illness that can lead interlocuters to treat ill persons’ reports with unwarranted disbelief or dismissiveness” (180). Carel investigates the epistemic dimensions in doctor-patient interactions and provides phenemenological toolkit which addresses the epistemic injustice in illness. See chapter eight, “Epistemic Injustice in Healthcare” in Carel’s Phenemenology of Illness.

3 According to Pierrie Bourdieu, symbolic violence is “instituted through the adherence that the dominated cannot fail to grant the dominant.. .the embodiment of the—thereby naturalized—classifications of which her social being is the product.” See Arthur Frank’s “The Negative Privilege of Women’s Illness Narratives.”


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Humanities and Social SciencesNational Institute of Technology (NIT)TrichyIndia

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