A few weeks ago I attended two, two-day seminars run as part of ESRC seminar series. Both dealt with issues of embodiment and health in ways that offered interesting connections between the medical humanities and social science. Both seminar series have their own websites and as the co-organiser of one of them I will be posting a more comprehensive summary of the seminar on the site, but here I want to highlight some of the links to MH.
The first seminar Re-theorising Women’s Health: Estranged bodies, University of Liverpool included presentations on drug using women, homeless women, transbodies, self-injury, weight-loss surgery and cancer culture (see website for more details) and extensive small group discussions. Across the two days ‘epistemologies of ignorance’ was an occurring theme and this struck me as a key to much work in the medical humanities, whether that is the work MH does in challenging the ‘epistemologies of ignorance’ that are the gaps and blind spots in contemporary western medicine’s conceptualisation of the body or the ‘epistemologies of ignorance’ which must be overcome in order to successfully undertake the kind of interdisciplinary working which MH requires.
Whilst most of the delegates at the seminar were social scientists, all of the speakers also worked with/as other bodies/disciplines. For example, presenters drew on their own narratives of illness/estranged embodiment in terms of experiences of cancer treatment, being a transbody or having weight loss surgery, combining feminist epistemologies with phenomenology (Vincent Vincetti, Deborah Steinberg, Sam Murray). Presenters also spoke of their interdisciplinary work with neuroscientists (Nancy Campbell, Betsy Ettore) and used arts-based methodologies in their research (Nancy Halifax and Kay Inckle). The papers by Kay Inckle and Nancy Halifax particularly stood out for me as providing interesting links between social science and MH – Kay read a story from her new book on self-injury (Flesh Wounds: new ways of understanding self-injury) which uses ethnographic fiction, a method in which ethnographic research is written up in the form of short stories. Nancy Halifax discussed her work with homeless women, part of which involves knitting group. She brought along wool and knitting needles and we knitted during her paper. Her beautiful paper combined poetry with more traditional academic presentation and the act of knitting changed the nature of the space and created connections with her work in interesting ways. I thought both of these papers illustrate some interesting links between social sciences and medical humanities in terms of research methodology but also academic practice more broadly.