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Objects of safety and imprisonment: Breathless patients’ use of medical objects in a palliative setting

Binnie, Kate and McGuire, Coreen and Carel, Havi (2021) 'Objects of safety and imprisonment: Breathless patients’ use of medical objects in a palliative setting.', Journal of Material Culture, 26 (2). pp. 122-141.


In this article, the authors consider breathless adults with advanced non-malignant lung disease and their relationship with health objects. This issue is especially relevant now during the Covid-19 pandemic, where the experiences of breathlessness and dependence on related medical objects have sudden and global relevance. These objects include ambulatory oxygen, oxygen concentrators and inhalers, and non-pharmacological objects such as self-monitoring devices and self-management technologies. The authors consider this relationship between things and people using an interdisciplinary approach employing psychoanalytic theory (in particular Winnicott’s theory of object relations and object use), Science and Technology Studies (STS) and phenomenology. This collaborative approach allows them to relate patient use of health objects to ways of thinking about the body, dependency, autonomy, safety and sense-making within the context of palliative care. The authors illustrate the theoretical discussion with three reflective vignettes from therapeutic practice and conclude by suggesting further interdisciplinary research to develop the conceptual and practice-based links between psychoanalytic theory, STS and phenomenology to better understand individual embodied experiences of breathlessness. They call for palliative care-infused, psychoanalytically informed interventions that acknowledge breathless patients’ dependence on things and people, concomitant with the need for autonomy in being-towards-dying.

Item Type:Article
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Publisher statement:© The Author(s) 2020. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License ( which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (
Date accepted:No date available
Date deposited:28 October 2022
Date of first online publication:12 June 2020
Date first made open access:28 October 2022

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