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The coughing body: etiquettes, techniques, sonographies and spaces

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Publication details

DateAccepted/In press - 2020
DateE-pub ahead of print (current) - 15 Sep 2020
Early online date15/09/20
Original languageEnglish


Abstract: With newfound relevance in the context of Covid-19, we focus on the coughing body, building on an in-depth qualitative study of three UK lung infection clinics treating people with cystic fibrosis. Conceptually we take our cue from Norbert Elias and the way something as physiologically fundamental as coughing becomes the focus of etiquette and technique, touching also on themes central to Mary Douglas’ anthropology of pollution. This is explored through four themes. First, we show how coughing becomes a matter of biopolitical citizenship expressed through etiquettes that also displace pollution anxieties to surroundings. Second, coughing is a question of being assisted to cough through the mediation of professional skills, interventions and devices. Third, coughing is seen to be central to the sonographic soundscape of the healthcare environment whereby people learn to recognise (and sometimes misrecognise) each other through the ‘sound’ of the cough. Finally, coughing properly can be seen to have both a ‘time and a place’ including the retreat of the cough from public space into risky confined spaces. Our conclusion speculates on the way these insights shed light on aspects of life that, until the Covid-19 pandemic, lay largely hidden.

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© 2020, The Author(s).

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