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Recovery from anorexia nervosa: A Durkheimian interpretation

Identifieur interne : 000D90 ( Main/Exploration ); précédent : 000D89; suivant : 000D91

Recovery from anorexia nervosa: A Durkheimian interpretation

Auteurs : Catherine J. Garrett [Australie]

Source :

RBID : ISTEX:A67130E0ABB68AA4D7490B921BED81AE80033E70

Abstract

Attempts to explain “eating disorders” in contemporary western society have concentrated on aetiology at the expense of resolution. Most “recovered” anorectics, however, question medical definitions of “anorexia nervosa” and clinical criteria for recovery. This article refers to a study of 32 people at different stages of the recovery process, to reconceptualize the problem in sociological terms. Durkheim's account of asceticism offers a fresh interpretive framework in which anorexia and recovery are understood as the negative and positive phases respectively of a ritual of self-transformation. In western culture, where appropriate myths and rituals of re-incorporation are not readily available following a period of symbolic fasting, it is not surprising that recovery from anorexia is not automatic. Participants in this study referred to anorexia as a spiritual quest and for them recovery involved a re-discovery (or creation) of a threefold connection: inner, with others and with “nature”. These connections are, for them, the defining features of spirituality. The negative phase of the ritualistic quest (anorexia) involves a confrontation with the inevitability of death as a condition of the positive phase (recovery) in which people actively choose life. This new theoretical approach provides a non-medicalized understanding of anorexia and simultaneously enables a re-interpretation of the fasting of medieval women saints. Recent scholarship in this area is re-evaluated to demonstrate that the continuity between asceticism and anorexia lies in the use of food as a metaphorical attempt to confront the universal problem of one's own mortality. In certain historical situations, asceticism served a socially valuable symbolic purpose. In contemporary society, however, this meaning is no longer available. Instead, it is recovery which constitutes the active and metaphorical “rebellion” against forces of social control. Finally, the work of Van Gennep is used to explore some of the specific ritual processes through which people effect the self-transformation from suffering to recovery, providing further insights into how recovery takes place from a wide range of other sufferings as well.


Url:
DOI: 10.1016/0277-9536(96)00088-3


Affiliations:


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