CNM Research Talk: Witnessing Suffering, Narrative Data, Autoethnographic Analysis, and Communicative Responsibility- Presented By Fulbright Scholar Professor Barbara Sharf


Medical humanities scholars have repeatedly made the case for the ethical importance of clinicians enacting attention, presence, and empathy to witness the stories of illness-related suffering disclosed by patients. However, the concept of witnessing has not received adequate attention in the communication literature (health communication or otherwise).

In this presentation, storied accounts of three instances of witnessing the tense precipice between living and dying experienced by patients being treated for critical illnesses in hospital intensive care units are described from the perspective of a non-clinician. Instead of these data being gathered through interviews or focus groups, they are instead drawn from [my own] personal participant-observation that includes a great deal of obvious subjectivity, interpersonal connection, and evoked emotions. So, is this data that counts as a form of research? Post-hoc reflection on these narrative accounts is unabashedly auto-ethnographic. Does authoethnographic analysis have validity and integrity as a scholarly venue? All of us are asked to consider what are the important aspects and responsibilities of being witness to another’s suffering.


Barbara Sharf is a health communication researcher with research interests encompassing a wide variety of health-related topics. She is best-known for works employing qualitative forms of investigation and analysis, particularly narrative inquiry. She is the author or co-author of three books, the most recent being Storied Health and Illness: Communicating Personal, Cultural, and Political Complexities (2017), and more than 75 academic journal articles and book chapters. Currently Professor Emerita in the Department of Communication at Texas A & M, she remains active in conducting and publishing research. Her work has been honored as Outstanding Health Communication Scholar (2005) and Distinguished Health Communication Article (2017) by the National Communication Association. For the past decade, her work has focused on communicative aspects of integrative health care, specifically how culturally-based, complementary systems and modalities of healing have moved toward institutionalization within conventional, biomedical organizations. As a U.S. Fulbright Research Scholar, she has visited NUS for the last three years in the Department of Communication and New Media to extend her studies to Singapore.

2 February 2018
3:00 PM – 4:00 PM

NUS Libraries, Central Library
National University of Singapore
CLB-04-04, Theatrette 1

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