Arthur W. Frank
Arthur Frank is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Sociology, University of Calgary, and has been Professor II at VID Specialized University, Norway. He writes and lectures on illness experience, narrative, and ethics of care. He lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He received his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1975; his M.A. in Communications from the University of Pennsylvania in 1970, and his B.A. in English from Princeton University in 1968.
What happens when my body breaks down happens not just to that body but also to my life, which is lived in that body. When the body breaks down, so does the life. Even when medicine can fix the body, that doesn’t always put the life back together again. At the Will of the Body, p. 8.
I have spent my career studying three interrelated issues: how people come to think of themselves as the persons they believe they are (the problem of the subject); how people understand, or fail to understand, each other (the problem of intersubjectivity); and the problem of what people believe is right to do, when the stakes on action are high (the problem of ethics). I study these three questions with particular respect to stories and narrative, which I believe enable humans to have what they know as experiences. My particular concern is stories of illness and suffering, and how those who suffer can benefit from telling their own stories and hearing others’ stories.
Stories inform in the sense of providing information, but more significantly, stories give form–temporal and spatial orientation, coherence, meaning, intention, and especially boundaries–to lives that inherently lack form….
Stories make life good, but they also make life dangerous. They bring people together, and they keep them apart. This book is about humans’ necessary, inescapable, sometimes beneficial but too often imperfect companionship with stories. It goal is to improve the terms of that companionship. Letting Stories Breathe, p. 2
My teaching career focused on sociological theory, and my crucial theorist companions include Erving Goffman, Alfred Schutz, Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu, Mikhail Bakhtin, and Bruno Latour, in roughly the order in which I encountered their work. My early research was in phenomenology, conversation and discourse analysis, and postmodernism. I also undertook considerable training in family therapy and spent my first sabbatical working as a therapist; that work was interrupted by my own illnesses and the direction those took me. I retain an active theoretical interest in narrative therapy (Michael White and David Epston). I also associate myself with what is called narrative medicine, and my focus has expanded from being exclusively on illness experience to include the professional problems–and often the suffering–of healthcare workers.
The term vulnerable reading sounds euphonious to me, but it could as well be called wounded reading, or reading for solace, or my overly long favourite: reading to get you through the night, when the night is bitter and you’re sick at heart. Vulnerable reading seeks help in literature. “Who’s There?”: A Vulnerable Reading of Hamlet. Forthcoming, Literature and Medicine.
My current project is Vulnerable Reading, with a focus on Shakespeare. Vulnerable reading shifts the usual emphasis of literature and medicine by taking the perspective of ill and suffering persons. The question is how a literary work might be a companion and a resource either for ill people or for those who care for the ill. Vulnerable reading uses literature to investigate suffering, but it seeks to make literature useful to those who suffer. It asks what those who suffer can find in a work of literature that offers solace, some form of guidance, and companionship.
In my thinking, Shakespeare designates not only the specific playwright, but of equal importance to me, the 400 year conversation that begins with the plays and extends to include literary criticism, philosophical commentary, the writings of actors and directors who reflect on how playing Shakespeare has affected their lives, historical studies, and especially retellings of Shakespeare’s stories. These retellings show how Shakespeare is a flexible resource that can be useful to post-colonial, feminist, and other perspectives, including perspectives of the ill.
Honours and Awards
National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, Washington D.C., 1996 Natalie David Spingarn Writer’s Award.
Royal Society of Canada, Elected Fellow, 2005.
The Hastings Center, Garrison N.Y., Elected Fellow, 2005.
Abbyann Lynch Medal in Bioethics, Royal Society of Canada, 2008.
Lifetime Achievement Award, Canadian Bioethics Society, 2016.
University of Calgary Students’ Union Teaching Awards, outstanding teacher in the Faculty of Social Sciences, 1985 and 1996.
Killam Foundation Resident Fellowships, 2002 and 2008.
Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, grants, 2001-2004 and 2008-2011.
University of Otago (William Evans Fellow in bioethics); University of Sydney (bioethics); Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto; University of Toronto (Dalla Lana School of Public Health); University of Central Lancashire (College of Health & Wellbeing, on-going); Keio University, Tokyo
Selected Major Publications (books; articles since 2010):
At the Will of the Body. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991.
winner of the Natalie Davis Spingarn Writer’s Award, National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship (Washington, D.C.), 1996. Translations in Spanish, Dutch, German, Japanese, and Korean
new edition, 2002, Mariner Books
The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness, and Ethics. University of Chicago Press, 1995.
translation in Japanese
2nd edition, 2013
The Renewal of Generosity: Illness, Medicine, and How to Live. University of Chicago Press, 2004.
Winner of the Royal Society of Canada’s medal in bioethics, 2008.
Letting Stories Breathe: A Socio-Narratology. University of Chicago Press, 2010.
King Lear: Shakespeare’s Dark Consolations. Oxford University Press, forthcoming August 2022.
Selected Publications Since 2010
Arthur W. Frank, Michael K. Corman, Jessica A. Gish, and Paul Lawton, “Healer-Patient Interaction: New Mediations in Clinical Relationships.” Pp. 34-52 in Ivy Bourgeault et al., eds., The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Methods in Health Research. Los Angeles: Sage, 2010.
Arthur W. Frank, “Patient-Centered Care as a Response to Medification.” Wake Forest Law Review 45 (2010): 1453-1459.
Arthur W. Frank, “Practicing Dialogical Narrative Analysis.” Pp. 33-52 in James A. Holstein and Jaber Gubrium, Varieties of Narrative Analysis. Los Angeles: Sage, 2011.
Arthur W. Frank, “Metaphors of Pain.” Literature and Medicine 29, no. 1 (2011): 182-196.
Arthur W. Frank, “The Philosopher as Ethicist, the Ethicist as Storyteller.” Pp. 153-164 in Osbourne P. Wiggins and Annette C. Allen, eds., Clinical Ethics and the Necessity of Stories: Essays in Honor of Richard M. Zaner. Philosophy & Medicine 109. Dordrecht: Springer, 2011.
Arthur W. Frank, “Reflective Healthcare Practice: Claims, Phronesis, and Dialogue.” Pp. 53-60 in Anne Kinsella and Allan Pitman, eds., Phronesis as Professional Knowledge. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publications, 2012.
Arthur W. Frank, “The Force of Embodiment: Violence and Altruism in Cultures of Practice.” Pp. 698-721 in Jeffrey C. Alexander et al., eds., The Oxford Handbook of Cultural Sociology. New York: Oxford, 2012.
Arthur W. Frank, “Conclusions: The Varieties of My Body: Pain, Ethics, and Illusio.” Pp. 389-395 in Bryan S. Turner, ed., Routledge Handbook of Body Studies. New York: Routledge, 2012.
Arthur W. Frank, “The Feel for Power Games: Everyday Phronesis and Social Theory.” Pp. 48-65 in Bent Flyvbjerg et al., Real Social Science: Applied Phronesis. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012.
Arthur W. Frank, “Support, Advocacy, and the Selves of People with Cancer”, pp. 166-178; “Survivorship: In Every Expression a Crack”, pp. 195-209 in Rebecca Dresser, ed., Malignant: Medical Ethicists Confront Cancer. New York: Oxford, 2012.
Arthur W. Frank, “Biovaluable Stories and a Narrative Ethics of Reconfigurable Bodies”, pp. 139-56 in Michael J. Hyde and James A. Herrick, After the Genome: A Language for Our Biotechnological Future. Waco TX: Baylor University Press, 2013.
Arthur W. Frank, “Commentary: Dense Junctures of Ethical Concern”, Narrative Inquiry in Bioethics 3, no. 1 (2013): 35-40.
Arthur W. Frank, “From sick role to practices of health and illness”, Medical Education 47 (2013): 18-25.
Winner of the journal’s “Silver Quill” award for being the most downloaded article of the year.
Arthur W. Frank, “Narrative Ethics as Dialogical Storytelling”, The Hastings Center Review, special report on narrative ethics, 44, no. 1, 2014, S16-S20.
Arthur W. Frank, “Healing”, International Encyclopedia of Bioethics, 4th edition, 2014.
Arthur W. Frank, “Being a Good Story: The Humanities as Therapeutic Practice”, Health & Humanities Reader, edited by T. Jones, D. Wear and L. Friedman. Rutgers University Press, 2014, pp. 13-25. (lead chapter)
Arthur W. Frank, “Selves, Holding Their Own with Illness”, Creative Dialogues: Narrative and Medicine, edited by I. Fernandes et al. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, pp. 120-129.
Arthur W. Frank, “Illness and Narrative Distraction: or Vice Versa?” The Perch: An Arts & Literary Journal (Yale University Press), 2, spring 2015, 48-59, with commentary by Larry Davidson, 62-64.
Arthur W. Frank, “From sick role to narrative subject: An analytic memoir.” health: an interdisciplinary journal. 2016, 20(1): 9-21.
Arthur W. Frank, “The Angel and the IV Pump.” Societies. 2015. 52: 469-474.
Arthur W. Frank, “The Limits, Dangers, and Absolute Indispensability of Stories.” Narrative Works. 2015. 5(2): 86-97.
Arthur W. Frank, “Bioethics’ Contradiction: Everyday Ethics and the Morality System.” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine. 2016. 59(2): 283-292.
Arthur W. Frank and Oddgeir Synnes, “Dignity and narrative: moral intuitions and contested claims.” Pp. 15-29 in O. Tranvag, O. Synnes, and W. McSherry, Stories of Dignity within Healthcare: Research, narratives and theory. Keswick UK: M&K Publishing, 2016.
Arthur W. Frank, “Suffering, the social scientific imagination, and health.” (review essay) health: an interdisciplinary journal. 2016. First published: 1 July 2016.
Arthur W. Frank, “Truth Telling, Companionship, and Witness: An Agenda for Narrative Bioethics.” The Hastings Center Report. 2016. 46(3): 17-21.
Arthur W. Frank, “Knowing Other People’s Stories: Empathy, Illness, and Identity.” Concentric: Literary and Cultural Studies. 2016. 42(2): 151-165.
Arthur W. Frank, “Philoctetes and the Good Companion Story.” Enthymema. 2016. XVI: 119-127.
Arthur W. Frank, “When Bodies Need Pictures in Stories.” Pp. 565-580 in M. Jackson, ed., The Routledge History of Disease. London: Routledge, 2017.
Arthur W. Frank, “Writing Oneself Back In: Narratives of Care, Grief, and Loss.” (review essay) Literature and Medicine. 2017. 35(1): 229-235.
Arthur W. Frank, “How stories of illness practice moral life.” Pp. 470-480 in I. Goodson, ed., The Routledge International Handbook on Narrative and Life History. London: Routledge: 2017.
Arthur W. Frank, “What is Narrative Medicine?” (review essay). Journal of Medical Humanities. Online first publication: 20 July 2017.
Arthur W. Frank, “Bioethics and ‘Rightness’”. The Hastings Center Report. 2017. 47(2): 53.
Arthur W. Frank, “Notes on socio-narratology and narrative therapy.” Journal of Narrative Family Therapy. 2017. Release 2, pp. 3-19. http://www.journalnft.com
Arthur W. Frank, “An illness of one’s own: Memoir as art form and research as witness.” Cogent Arts & Humanities. 2017. 4:1343654. (open access)
Arthur W. Frank, “What Is Narrative Therapy and How Can It Help Health Humanities?” Journal of Medical Humanities. 2018. Online first publication: 12 March 2018. Print 39(4).
Arthur W. Frank, “How Shakespeare’s Stories Set Us Free.” Narrative Works. 7(1): 73-84.
Arthur W. Frank, “Distributed Narrations of Illness.” Narrative Works. 7(1): 64-72.
Arthur W. Frank, “A Medical Pedagogy of Mutual Suffering” (book review essay). The Hastings Center Report, September-October 2018, 48(5): 42-43.
Arthur W. Frank, “How Shakespeare’s Stories Set Us Free” (book review essay). Narrative Works. 7(1): 73-84.
Arthur W. Frank, “‘Who’s There?’: A Vulnerable Reading of Hamlet“. Literature and Medicine, forthcoming.