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Vol. 10 No. 1: April issue

​​Irritating Bowels​: Attention and Everyday Management of Gut Trouble in Denmark

March 30, 2022


Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) constitutes an irritating and embarrassing problem for an estimated 11–16% of the Danish population. Based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork, this article explores how young and middle-aged people diagnosed with IBS attend to, experience, and manage gut trouble in a Danish welfare context. It asks how we may understand the relation between IBS, irritation, and attention. Drawing on conceptualisations of ‘dys-appearance’ (Leder 1990) and attentional pulls’ (Throop and Duranti 2015), I explore how afflicted individuals’ attention is pulled towards unwanted and unexpected gut sensations in everyday life, and how a Danish welfare context, manifesting itself in notions of ‘faring well’ (Langer and Højlund 2011) and moral imaginings of ‘good lives’ (Mattingly 2014), may contribute to this. Furthermore, I show how people are impelled to experiment with consciously paying attention to the gut and deciphering its signals to try to alleviate gut trouble. I suggest that irritation may not only be an empirical focal point, but also a heuristic tool for troubling and refining concepts.