General Anthropology Division
Oral Presentation Session
In traditional Korean medicine clinics (TKM), acupuncture is a primary therapeutic practice to remove physical discomforts and reach desired therapeutic outcomes, or medical efficacy. This paper examines the cultural-semiotic rendering of an abstract, kinesthetic quality into medical efficacy through acupuncture treatments, by employing the conceptual framework of qualia. Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in a TKM clinic in South Korea, I analyze a sensuous quality and experience called “shiwŏnham.” Shiwŏnham broadly denotes a relatively low temperature and state of refreshment or satisfaction; and in the TKM clinic, shiwŏnham is concerned with a refreshing feeling of relief — that is, “healing.”
I analyze ethnographic moments of ‘instruction,’ during which the qualia of shiwŏnham, as an index of healing, are taught and communicated intergenerationally. I examine how the younger generation learn to experience and interpret the (physical) sense and (phonic) sounds of shiwŏnham as signs of efficacy through instructive interactions with older family members. These interactions illuminate “genres of instruction” (Gal 2013) which I gloss as sensation script, the ideological framework guiding individuals to facilitate the intersubjective sharing of shiwŏnham. I argue that it is through the semiotic regimentation of sensation script and the instructive practices that the “conventional qualisign” (Harkness 2013) of shiwŏnham is communicated and understood in the TKM clinic.
This paper contributes to the goal of bridging linguistic and medical anthropology, by intersecting medical anthropology’s inquiry of ‘healing’ with the semiotic and linguistic analysis of sensation.