Benjamin Gagnon Chainey

Study program:
French-language literature
Current affiliation:
Université de Montréal | Nottingham Trent University, UK

Benjamin Gagnon Chainey (French-language literature, Université de Montréal and Nottingham Trent University, UK) analyses the evolution of empathy and the patient-caregiver relationship through literary writings touching on AIDS and medical practices, starting at the end of the 19th century.

Doctoral research

The caregiver and the dying: Comparative analysis of two end-of-century bodies of literature

Since its appearance at the end of the 20th century, AIDS has occupied a unique place in the history of medicine. In addition to contaminating the body, AIDS contaminated scientific, socio-political, and literary discourse by calling into question the ethics that underlie medicine and caregiving.

Several HIV-positive authors have written about their experiences with the disease. French author Hervé Guibert, who died at the height of the pandemic in 1991, was one of them. Guibert’s recounting of the ravages of the virus on his body and his reflections on his relationship with his doctors and caregivers, shaken by the pandemic, echoes the writing of such great 19th-century authors as Joris-Karl Huysmans, Guy de Maupassant, Octave Mirbeau, and Émile Zola, all of whom questioned the power of medicine and the role of caregivers.  

Benjamin Gagnon Chainey’s doctoral research will develop a conversation between the AIDS-centered writing of Hervé Guibert and the medically inspired writings of authors of the late 19th century. His work will renew current perspectives on these authors, and spark a dialogue among writers, healthcare professionals, and patients, allowing them to think together about ways to accompany the dying and better fulfill their roles in the collective struggle against disease, past and present.

Benjamin Gagnon Chainey’s unique academic and professional trajectory sits at the intersection of two disciplines: medicine and literature. His fascination for the body, both as a motor of performance and as a receptacle for sickness, has led him to combine the disciplines in an investigation of the ethical stakes of the caregiving relationship.

Benjamin’s resume includes an extensive career as a competitive diver at the national junior level, during which the Fédération du plongeon amateur du Québec (FPAQ) named him “Model Provincial Diver” of his age group several times, after which he became a high-dive acrobat at La Ronde amusement park in Montréal. In 2004, Benjamin graduated in physical therapy from the Université de Montréal and assumed the role of chief coach at the Agami diving club in Brossard, Quebec. Several of the national junior-level athletes he trained there have since pursued careers on the American collegiate circuit, on the Diving Canada national team, or with the Cirque du Soleil. Their results earned Benjamin a nomination for the FPAQ’s “Model Athlete Development Coach.”

Moving from his interest in the performing body to an interest in the suffering body, in 2005 Benjamin began a career as an intensive and acute care physical therapist at the University Hospital Centre of Montréal’s Hôtel-Dieu. In 2008, he developed an expertise in neurology at Villa Medica, a rehabilitation hospital internationally recognized for its leadership in clinical care. There, Benjamin supervised the internships of physical therapy students and chaired the Multidisciplinary Council’s Executive Committee.

In this stimulating and complex clinical environment, Benjamin found an outlet to express the intricacies of the caregiving relationship in literature. He completed a bachelor in French-language literature at the Université de Montréal, during which he took part in a student exchange in modern literature at the Université de Paris IV-Sorbonne. During his stay in France, he served as a student ambassador for the Université de Montréal at education fairs. Convinced of the synergy between medicine and literature, Benjamin next began a master’s degree in research-creation on the tensions between medicine and literature under the supervision of renowned writer and literature professor Catherine Mavrikakis.

With his dual scientific and literary vocation, 2017 Vanier and Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation scholar Benjamin Gagnon Chainey hopes to promote dialogue between writers, academics, patients, and healthcare professionals about the evolution of empathy, with the goal of bringing more humanity to the caregiving relationship.

  • September 12, 2019
    2017 Scholar Benjamin Gagnon Chainey has co-organized an international study day of Hervé Guibert, a multidisciplinary writer who died in 1991. Almost 30 years after his death, Hervé Guibert who was HIV-positive is one of the central authors of Benjamin Gagnon Chainey’s doctoral research that looks at the relationship between literature, sexual and cultural identities, and the practice of care and medicine.
  • April 30, 2018
    Congratulations to 2017 Foundation scholar Benjamin Gagnon Chainey, who won the 2017 Mœbius Public’s Prize for “Full Moon”  (French only). Benjamin was first announced as one of the five finalists in January 2018.
  • January 25, 2018
    Benjamin Gagnon Chainey, a 2017 Trudeau scholar, is one of five finalists in the final round of the 2017 Moebius Public’s Prize, an award given to the best text published in Mœbius, a journal of Quebec literature, in the last year.