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Dignity and Health

Nora Jacobson

Publication Year: 2012

In these hard times of global financial peril and growing social inequality, injuries to dignity are pervasive. "Indignity has many faces," one man told Nora Jacobson as she conducted interviews for this book. Its expressions range from rudeness, indifference, and condescension to objectification, discrimination, and exploitation. Yet dignity can also be promoted. Another man described it as "common respect," suggesting dignity's ordinariness, and the ways we can create and share it through practices like courtesy, leveling, and contribution.

Dignity and Health examines the processes and structures of dignity violation and promotion, traces their consequences for individual and collective health, and uses the model developed to imagine how we might reform our systems of health and social care.

With its focus on the dignity experiences of those often excluded from the mainstream--people who are poor, or homeless, or dealing with mental health problems--as well as on vulnerabilities like age or sickness or unemployment that threaten to make us all feel "less than," Dignity and Health recognizes dignity as a moral matter embedded in the choices we make every day.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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Table of Contents

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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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Introduction: A Conceptual, Practical, and Moral Inquiry

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pp. 1-20

Dignity exists in a state of some peril. It can be “taken away.” Men and women can be “deprived” of their dignity. The verbs people used when they spoke to us about dignity indicate that these threats come in many different forms. Dignity may be “challenged” or “compromised” or “offended.” It can be “upset” or “undermined.” It can be “stolen,” “crushed,” “punctured,” “eroded,” “stripped,” “assaulted,” or...

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1. Dignity Violation: A Universe of Human Suffering

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pp. 21-50

He was a strongly built man whose face and hands showed the scars of rough living. He walked awkwardly, with a limp that seemed to throw him off balance. In telling me about his life he described himself as “a traveler,” the son who “seems to stray,” and the “black sheep, per se.” As a younger man, he “felt that society had just ripped a hole in my heart and I just, I gave up for a while.” Time had passed “in an...

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2. The Structures That Deny Dignity

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pp. 51-86

The first time I spoke to an audience about dignity violation, it was to the staff of an agency that provides health and social care services to homeless and underhoused individuals in Toronto. Midway through my presentation, a listener dismissed my recounting of the social processes of violation as a detailed but aimless inventory of the ways some people have of “being mean” to other people. (He prefaced his...

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3. An Epidemiology of Damage

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pp. 87-118

The vocabulary of dignity violation is metaphorical, yet visceral. People we interviewed talked about dignity being “chipped away,” “eroded,” “punctured,” “stripped,” or “robbed.” (Hand movements indicating either slow destruction or violent tearing often accompanied these verbs.) They offered phrases that described how it feels to live “without dignity”: “like a child,” “like you are an inch high,” “like an animal...

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4. Dignity Promotion: The Ordinary Language of Respect

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pp. 119-156

You could be forgiven for feeling bleak right now. There are so many ways to violate dignity, so many systems in place that perpetuate violation. Most of our conversations about dignity, in scholarship and in our daily lives, focus on how dignity may be threatened or lost. Explicit attention to dignity promotion is more of a novelty, but it is important to recognize that dignity does not just claim victims of violation: it also...

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5. The Demands of Dignity

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pp. 157-198

Thus far, I have focused on the ascriptive and descriptive forms of dignity, examining the literature to understand the theoretical constructions of the grounds of dignity, and using empirical evidence to explore the social processes and contextual conditions that constitute dignity violation and dignity promotion and the consequences of violation and promotion. Dignity also has a prescriptive form. The notion...


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pp. 199-214


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pp. 215-224

E-ISBN-13: 9780826518637
E-ISBN-10: 082651863X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826518613

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2012