Ars Medica Special Issue Call for Submissions – Placebos, Nocebos and the Contact Zones of Biomedicine

The term “placebo” (from the Latin it will please) refers to ways of healing that defy the causative logics of medicine. Placebos prompt a cessation of symptoms, they hail the pleasure of health into being, but they lack the very properties by which drugs or other interventions elicit changes in bodies. Nocebos are an ominous side of the same coin: “inert” substances and procedures that bring about harms and side effects, seemingly unbidden. Both placebos and nocebos vex the causal, mechanistic narrative of biomedicine, while functioning as a foil to pharmaceutical drugs and standardized procedures that draw bodies into curative relations within this same narrative. In many ways, placebos and nocebos open up contact zones within medicine that are in need of critical exploration—social spaces where there are clashes of culture embedded within asymmetrical relations of power. We find placebos and nocebos within the intersubjective relations of medicine; within the technologies that bring new drugs, triumphant, to market; within the practices that determine what counts as “real” within the frame of biomedical knowledge.

In this special issue of Ars Medica, we invite submissions of narrative, medical history, fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry, visual art, and other digital art that draw out, reflect on, and interrogate the contact zones illuminated by placebos and nocebos.  Submissions might explore:


–          The interdependent nature of placebo and nocebo in medicine – examining how what heals also harms

–          The ways in which healing is a relational as well as biosocial phenomenon

–          The cultural situatedness of healing practices

–          Trust, empathy, and safety (or their lack) within caring relationships

–          How healing and harming practices are enacted and embodied in medicine

–          The role of ritual and meaning responses within clinical encounters

–          The boundaries of the objective/subjective within medicine

–          The significance of placebos and nocebos for disability studies and other critical approaches to biomedicine

Submissions should be prepared in digital format for review and sent to Suze Berkhout [suze.berkhout at] and Ada Jaarsma [ajaarsma at] by July 15, 2017.  Details regarding submission preparation and general information about Ars Medica can be found at

Feel free to contact us with queries or ideas in advance of the deadline.