Reading sensations: understanding the process of distinguishing 'fine' from 'sick'

Transcult Psychiatry. 2008 Jun;45(2):198-229. doi: 10.1177/1363461508089765.


Sensations form the bases of our recognition that we are well, or, alternatively, that something is wrong. What is the process which transforms a sensation into a symptom? In this article, I draw on fieldwork from Lombok, Indonesia to propose a model of the processes through which sensations become symptoms. Perceptional and interpretive decisions regarding what sensations need to be attended to as potential symptoms may be the result of personal awareness of cultural ideas about vulnerability, sensation duration, and interference with activities. The interpretation of sensations is always tentative, conditional on further cultural information regarding whether the sensation should be constructed into a symptom. I conclude by suggesting a model of the processes through which sensations are interpreted, become pathologized, and are socially legitimated.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Attention*
  • Attitude to Health
  • Culture
  • Disease
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Sensation*
  • Unconscious, Psychology