Response-Liminality and the Mirage of Settlement

J Bioeth Inq. 2022 Mar;19(1):55-60. doi: 10.1007/s11673-021-10160-w. Epub 2022 Apr 1.


Little and colleagues' (1998) paper describing a key aspect of cancer patients' experience, that of "liminality," is remarkable for giving articulation to a very common and yet mostly overlooked aspect of patient experience. Little et. al. offered a formulation of liminality that deliberately set aside the concept's more common use in analysing social rituals, in order to grasp at the interior experience that arises when failing bodily function and awareness of mortality are forced into someone's consciousness, as occurs with a diagnosis of cancer. We set out the reasons as to why this analysis was so significant in 1998-but we also consider how the "liminality" described by Little and colleagues was (as they suggested) a feature of modernity, founded on what we term "the mirage of settlement." We argue that this mirage is impossible to sustain in 2022 amid the many forms of un-settling that have characterized late modernity, including climate change and COVID-19. We argue that many people in developed nations now experience liminality as a result of the being forced into the consciousness of living in a continued state of coloniality. We thus rejoin the social aspects of liminality to the interior, Existential form described by Little et. al.

Keywords: Bioethics; Existential philosophy; Illness Experience; Liminality.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms*