Towards a Sociology of Placebo Response: Body, Emotions, and Semiotics of Healing

Graduate Doctoral Student, Department of Sociology, School of Social Sciences, Bangor University, Bangor, UK AND Researcher, Danesh-e-Tandorosti Institute, Isfahan, Iran


With the emergence of the “sociology of body” and “sociology of emotions” in recent years, and the explosion of research about placebos and the mechanisms of their action, there is enough grounding now to consider the placebo response from a sociological point of view. These new subfields of sociology have provided enough knowledge about the primacy of action and emotions, and the importance of embodied knowledge and feelings in social interactions. Studies in medicine and psychology show that placebo response is a meaning response which develops in the context of interpersonal relationships. In this process, the embodied experience of the patient and health care professionals and their thoughts, beliefs, emotions and feelings are involved. Lines of research in the fields of placebo response, hypnosis research, doctor-patient relationship, and sociology of body and emotion are converging and provide the evidence for the role of interpersonal interactions in the healing process. Critical analysis of the placebo response provides the basis for an alternative framework to the current dominant model of health care which is biomedicine. This model is based on the dualisms and is inadequate to provide a place and explanation for psychosomatic and culture related disorders which are currently categorized under terms like “Medically Unexplained Syndromes (MUS)”. A possible new model could be constructed based on our new understandings provided by studies on placebo response. In this new model, interpersonal dynamics, intersubjectivity, and intercorporeality are core issues and in the center of attention for research and enquiry.


  • Placebo response
  • Intersubjectivity
  • Intercorporeality
  • Embodiment
  • Emotions
  • Biomedicine

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