Kambili Husbands

Inside/outside: Psoriasis, disease, and the embodied self

Kambili Husbands,
Special Individualized Programs (SIP) MA
Concordia University

My master’s research will explore questions of disability, subjectivity, and embodiment, particularly in relation to skin and skin disease. Psoriasis is an incurable auto-immune disease for which the most visible (and often most problematic) symptom is the appearance or large, red patches of flaking skin which can cover any part of the patient’s body. Using psoriasis as my point of reference, I will focus on how dominant medical models of health, treatment and other clinical interventions shape our understanding of the unhealthy subject and the unhealthy body. While clinical literature on psoriasis often lacks a broader theoretical context for thinking through issues associated with subjectivity, embodiment, identity and so on, skin studies literature has shied away from the medical realities of living with skin disease. How does psoriasis challenge these dominant paradigms through which people living with psoriasis often come to know themselves as diseased or unwell? How do discourses of normality, health, and illness constitute the disease itself, and how might we re-read the experience of psoriasis, from a feminist, queer, or critical-race perspective? How does the example of psoriasis illuminate the ways in which all bodies are subject to medical and cultural regulation in contemporary Western society?
The existing literature on psoriasis is overwhelmingly clinical. The purpose of my research will be to formulate how psoriasis may be understood in relation to biomedical understandings of the disease. Furthermore, in the medical literature many studies are psychological in scope, focusing on the mental or psychological experience of psoriasis, as opposed to the physical. Psoriasis has therefore taken on a psychological dimension, which has become central to the disease itself. Why is psoriasis so psychologically problematic? And how does psoriatic embodiment compete with, or exemplify, these biomedical and psychological understandings of the disease?
While cultural and psychoanalytic theorists have become increasingly interested in the significance of skin, little has been written about skin disorders. My research intends to fill this gap by paying specific attention to skin disorders, and the ways in which disordered skin can offer new insights to this emerging field. How might the experience of “shedding” (the process of overactive skin cell development, that is both specific to psoriasis and, in a lesser form, a “normal” process) undermine this function of the skin? How do “stigmatized skins” bear on the psychic development and stability of the self? And how is this relationship altered in the context of medical intervention, and other changes in the skin’s surface? I hope to make strong connections between clinical understandings of the body, which currently dominate the literature on psoriasis, and cultural theory considerations of the body.

Kambili Husbands defended her thesis in May 2013 and graduated at Fall Convocation