The Embodied Liminalities of Occupational Overuse Syndrome



Drawing on interviews with sufferers of OOS (occupational overuse syndrome) in Aoteraoa/New Zealand, this article explores the liminalities associated with OOS and the ways in which this liminality is embodied. While successful rehabilitation could lead back to employment, the respondents’ fragility while living with OOS and its accompanying social stigma render such rehabilitation both literally and symbolically “out of reach.” Their situations reveal social isolation, loss of identities, pain, and functional disability that have been incorporated into renegotiated identities and biographies in which respondents have become exquisitely self-absorbed, exercising constant bodily surveillance and discipline in order to manage their symptoms. We suggest that this problematic extends beyond biographical disruption to encompass the concept of injury to an embodied sense of integrity for people who were notable prior to their affliction for their reputations as extremely competent and conscientious workers. The embodied meaning of OOS in this environment is not so much to have fallen “out of culture” as Hilbert (Ewan et al. 1991) suggests, but to be liminal in Turner’s sense of “threshold people” (Turner 1969:56) “ground down to a uniform condition to be fashioned anew.”