CFP: Art of Illness; history of medicine and bioethics

“The Art of Illness: Inventing, Accusing, and Doubting Health Conditions”

Edited by Wendy J. Turner


There is a long history of people faking medical conditions from women claiming pregnancy to avoid the death penalty, if for only a few weeks, to members of the military feigning health conditions or infirmity to leave service. The performative aspects of health conditions lend themselves to being reproduced: beggars pretend with bad breath and painted on sores to have “leprosy” or with a bandaged leg and crutches to be lame. When those elements are not correct, when the lame man can limp away without crutches, the public may doubt the person is ill, impaired, or in need of assistance.


There are also examples of unscrupulous family members that accuse a healthy person of being unhealthy for gain of property, inheritance, or profit. They might accuse a person who is weak in mental health of being mentally disabled, or an aging individual of not being capable of managing affairs, or a person in the prime of life with any number of health-related conditions. These accusations can cause doubt in the mind of a jury, especially if the individual is caught off guard, perhaps is confused in court or comes while ill with a common cold. Every accusation needed to be investigated, true or not, causing delays such that might be to the advantage of the accuser.


In all of these examples, an individual has tapped into something important about how the public reacts to and understands illness, or, conversely, has failed to recognize these common expectations. There is an art to being ill, a socially acceptable way of demonstrating pain, and there is the reverse. The fabrication of illness, whether perpetrated on another or by an individual, for social or monetary gain is accomplished because the public believe certain tropes about illness generally, and they weigh proof of illness or disability within a common framework of ideas. If this framework is not intact, the public might also not believe a person who is disabled is who he says he is. The unseen disability—gut issues, heart troubles, or other internal problems—leave the spectator with questions of truth.


This volume explores the art of illness, and the deceptions and truths around health and bodies. All articles that engage with these themes from all time-periods and places are welcome. Papers should be approximately 10-15,000 words with appropriate citations (style sheet to follow). Please send abstract and title to The finished papers are due August 1, 2021.


Topics might include but are not limited to:

Social art of illness

Cultural artifice around illness or disability

Doubt in general or specific legal cases

General or particular overviews of medical case studies

Religious examples of invented illness or disability

Inheritance disagreements around a medical or invented issue

Local laws or regulations around begging and faking illness

Fabrication of illness to put off sentencing, jail time, death penalty, military service or other service


Wendy J. Turner is a professor of history and an adjunct professor of health policy at Augusta University. She works on the intersection between law and medicine in medieval England. Her works include: Care and Custody of the Mentally Ill, Incompetent, and Disabled in Medieval England (Brepols, 2013) along with many articles. She has edited four other books and sits on several editorial boards.  


This volume is intended for the “Routledge Advances in the History of Bioethics” series.