Pain in the Brain: Following Pain Neuroscience from Bench to Bedside

Sara Rubin
Social and Behavioral Sciences
UC San Francisco

Conceptualizations of pain have never been stable. Rather, interpretations of painful sensations are often reflections of the social, political, and ethical values of the moment. This dissertation tells the story of how pain is transforming within the current biopolitical landscape by tracing the neuroscience of pain as it travels from bench to bedside. Ethnographic fieldwork occurs in the lab, the medical school classroom, and the clinic, identifying the paths that biomedical knowledge travels as it moves from theory to practice. This study illustrates the complexities and multi-directionalities that occur within and across sciences, medicine, and technologies. Further, it explores how technoscientific and biomedical practices transform bodies and minds from the inside out, producing new conceptualizations of what it means to be an embodied human being. The grantee analyzes representations of the body within pain medicine, specifically as pain is being re-conceptualized as a problem of the brain, rather than of the body. Pain is a condition that is made and unmade by means of coming into relationship with human entities. The project illustrates this process, shining a light on the consequences of scientific practices for embodied human beings.