Making It Count - Tracing Signs of Consciousness and Potentiality in Severe Brain Injury in Denmark

Mette Terp Høybye*, Lise Marie Andersen, Hanne Bess Boelsbjerg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Healthcare professionals use various technologies to evaluate and support patients who have suffered severe brain injuries. They integrate monitoring and sensory assessments into their clinical practice, and these assessments can have an impact on treatment decisions and prognostication. Responses from patients during different interactions are interpreted as "signs of consciousness" when considered contextually relevant. This study is based on anthropological fieldwork conducted in specialized Danish intensive care units, where we explore how signs of consciousness are made to count through practices of enactment. We ethnographically trace how the clinical concept of potential influences the interpretation of signs of consciousness as a complex biosocial practice based on the biomedical assumption that consciousness is a vital indicator of what makes a life. The article provides insights into the potential for recovery as an emergent biosocial practice and contributes to a broader discussion within medical anthropology of the moral landscapes of clinical and experimental borderlands.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMedical Anthropology
Pages (from-to)115-129
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 2024


  • Anthropology, Medical
  • Brain Injuries
  • Consciousness/physiology
  • Denmark
  • Humans


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