Medical Humanities as disruptive teenager – a response to Brody

In his recent article, Professor Brody eloquently outlines the story of the three ‘personalities’ of medical humanities: that of disciplinary list, programme of moral development and critical friend.  I think our field inhabits all of these personalities depending on where you find it and the purposes it is being put to.  Those purposes are very much anchored within the culture and practices of medicine and are engaged in serving it.  However if we conceptualise our field in this instrumental way we prevent it from gaining sufficient distance from medicine to take a radically critical view.  That’s all changing now because a radically critical view is gaining strength as a result of the serious interest now being paid to medical humanities by scholars who have not traditionally trained their sights on medicine nor bent their intelligences to what their disciplines might have to say about its practices.   

We are now challenged to tell a greater story, to define a more exciting personality for medical humanities: one that will be defining of the fundamental beliefs and questions that make MH an essential research field for medicine and the humanities.  The personality I would like to propose is one of disruptive teenager.  The story of the emergence of this personality is part of a new phase of deeper engagement with the disciplinary perspectives of humanities, soc science and the biomedical sciences, but it is also a return to the roots of the field – that  initial sense that stimulated its development back in the 1970’s – that bioscience and even bioethics were insufficient to explain or explore the concerns of medicine contextualized within the lived experience of humanity.

About Jane Macnaughton

Jane is professor of Medical Humanities at Durham University and co-Director of the Centre for Medical Humanities. She has research interests in the nature of the clinical encounter and intersubjectivities within it, in the phenomenology of smoking, and in the methodology of interdisciplinarity within medical humanities. She is a also a clinician working in gynaecology. She is married to Andrew Russell, and they have a son, Euan (9), Jane's stepson, Ben (20) and a border terrier dog called Bertie.
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