Welcome to the website of the SNF project "Life (beyond) writing: Illness narratives" (2009-2013).


This project was run by a team of scholars from literary studies, linguistics and communication, working on material from the medical field, broadly speaking within the field of the Medical Humanities and Narrative Medicine.

The title of our project can be explained thus:
"Life writing" is an umbrella term (used in today’s autobiography studies) illustrating the prominence and diversity of autobiographical writing (e.g., diaries, letters, essays, memoirs, photography, homepages, etc.); thus, our lives are permeated with life writing texts. Inserting the preposition "beyond" between "life writing" on the one hand alludes to the potential of an author living on in his/her text after his/her death, which is even more pertinent in a narrative recounting the experience of a terminal illness. On the other hand "life beyond writing" refers to the fact that in writing/telling a narrative there is always an interaction between writer and reader/listener involved and the "life" of a vis-à-vis who is not writing is inherently present.

"Narrative" is also a broad term and there are different schools of narrative analysis mainly involving linguists, literary theorists, and anthropologists. In spite of the many different definitions (see Lucius-Hoene and Deppermann 2002; Martinez and Scheffel 2002) there is a general agreement, namely that a narrative must “involve the recounting of an event or events, […]. And second that these events can be either real or fictitious” (Hawthorn 2000: 225). We do not treat ‘narrative’ in the Labovian sense here, but look at it as reflections on past or future events, being well aware that this is a very broad definition.

This noun shows that we are working the area of health concerns.

More details on the project can be found below and under the following links:




IllNarr-Past activities and transfer


The Project (2009-2013)

This research project explores the social and cultural meanings of illness narratives and analyses their role and function in the literary, linguistic, and medical field. Thus, illness narratives will be approached from the three different disciplines: literary studies, linguistics and medicine.

Life writing (autobiographical) texts are omnipresent in our lives and play a crucial role in doctor-patient communication, in literature, and in everyday linguistic situations. The importance of narrative in the medical field has become acknowledged, but most doctors are not trained to be susceptible to specific linguistic and literary uses in their patients’ stories. Thus, it is necessary to integrate literary and linguistic issues into the curriculum at medical schools to approach illness more holistically. In addition, numerous recent illness narratives by patients/writers provide new insights that go beyond the biomedical dimension of an illness, and  with their aesthetic impact express additional aspects of  human experience such as illness. A linguistic analysis of narratives by Swiss medical students on a case history and comparative corpora from English students offers crucial information on the ways in which future doctors interpret a patient’s narrative and reflect their own situation.

The results of both the linguistic and literary analyses are used to advance current and develop future training for communicative skills for both medical students and practicing doctors and thus has a direct applied impact for the medical humanities. Furthermore, the students will improve their narrative competence and learn to pay heed to otherwise hidden, yet crucial information on a more encompassing context of illness. The interrelation between the three disciplines will thus be manifold in that both fields of linguistics and literature will work on data derived from the field of medicine and will let their results flow back into the field of medicine.


The Team (2009-2013)

The team consisted of researchers from the University of Basel and an associate of the University of Nottingham:

Prof. em. Alexander Kiss, Abteilung Psychosomatik, University of Basel
Prof. Franziska Gygax, Literature, English department, University of Basel
Prof. Miriam Locher, Linguistics, English department, University of Basel
Dr. Victoria Tischler, Lecturer in Behavioural Sciences, Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences, University of Nottingham
Regula Koenig, lic.phil. Linguistics, English department, University of Basel
Claudia Steiner,  dipl. phil. II, Abteilung Psychosomatik, University of Basel


Miriam Locher's website and Franziska Gygax's website