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

Kate Binnie*, Coreen McGuire, Havi Hannah Carel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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In this paper we consider breathless adults with advanced non-malignant lung disease and their relationship with health objects. These objects include ambulatory oxygen, oxygen concentrators and inhalers, and non-pharmacological objects such as self-monitoring devices and self-management technologies. We 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 us 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. We illustrate the theoretical discussion with three reflective vignettes from therapeutic practice. We 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. We 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.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Material Culture
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jun 2020


  • Breathlessness
  • medical objects
  • attachment
  • medical oxygen
  • technology
  • phenomenology of illness
  • end of life

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