Purposeful Pain

The Bioarchaeology of Intentional Suffering

  • Susan Guise Sheridan
  • Lesley A. Gregoricka

Part of the Bioarchaeology and Social Theory book series (BST)

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xix
  2. Susan Guise Sheridan, Lesley A. Gregoricka
    Pages 1-17
  3. No Pain, No Gain: Ideals of Beauty and Success

  4. Rituals of Pain and Practice

  5. The Politics of Pain: Power and Social Control

  6. Back Matter
    Pages 265-271

About this book


Pain is an evolutionary and adaptive mechanism to prevent harm to an individual. Beyond this, how it is defined, expressed, and borne is dictated culturally. Thus, the study of pain requires a holistic approach crossing cultures, disciplines, and time. This volume explores how and why pain-inducing behaviors are selected, including their potential to demonstrate individuality, navigate social hierarchies, and express commitment to an ideal. It also explores how power dynamics affect individual choice, at times requiring self-induced suffering.
Taking bioanthropological and bioarchaeological approaches, this volume focuses on those who purposefully seek pain to show that, while often viewed as “exotic,” the pervasiveness of pain-inducing practices is more normative than expected. Theory and practice are employed to re-conceptualize pain as a strategic path towards achieving broader individual and societal goals. Past and present motivations for self-inflicted pain, its socio-political repercussions, and the physical manifestations of repetitive or long-term pain inducing behaviors are examined. Chapters span geographic and temporal boundaries and a wide variety of activities to illustrate how purposeful pain is used by individuals for personal expression and manipulated by political powers to maintain the status quo.
This volume reveals how bioarchaeology illuminates paleopathology, how social theory enhances bioarchaeology, and how ethnography benefits from a longer temporal perspective.


pain-inducing behaviors and culture initiation rites to pious gestures pain and achieving broader individual and societal goals past and present motivations for self-inflicted pain Self-improvement at the cost of considerable pain painful ritualized behaviors exercise social control through painful practices

Editors and affiliations

  • Susan Guise Sheridan
    • 1
  • Lesley A. Gregoricka
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of Notre DameNotre DameUSA
  2. 2.Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social WorkUniversity of South AlabamaMobileUSA

Bibliographic information

  • DOI
  • Copyright Information Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020
  • Publisher Name Springer, Cham
  • eBook Packages Social Sciences
  • Print ISBN 978-3-030-32180-2
  • Online ISBN 978-3-030-32181-9
  • Series Print ISSN 2567-6776
  • Series Online ISSN 2567-6814
  • Buy this book on publisher's site