The Smoking Interest Group – SIG – will launch in September 2011

The Smoking Interest Group was established at Durham in October 2010 after a FUSE (Centre for Translational Research in Public Health) seminar in Newcastle revealed that there was a group emerging at Durham with the potential to develop a distinctive research focus in relation to smoking.  Most smoking research is carried out in the context of public health and with a focus on getting people to stop.  This approach, whether qualitative or quantitative in method, may tend to confine researchers’ vision about how to understand the experience of smoking and of the lives of smokers in the contexts of their lives.  For example, it may be difficult to break through a characteristic respondent response to enquiries about their smoking which is one of guilt, defensiveness and an litany of reasons why they have not stopped.  The interest of SIG is characterised as ‘critical public health’ and focuses on:

  • The phenomenology of smoking – understanding the experience, how it is embodied and felt and understood physically (the body being ‘caressed’ by smoke, how cigarettes ‘keeps people company’ and what this means), taking seriously and understanding the aesthetic pleasure smokers experience;
  • Cigarettes as ‘friends’ (in the words of many confirmed smokers).  What does this mean to have a relationship with an object – this can be explored via Bruno Latour’s actor network theory and through other approaches to the idea of objects as having agency;
  • The relationship of smoking and personhood – how smokers, long term and even recent can feel themselves constituted in some way by their smoking;
  • Cultural, historical, social aspects of smoking – e.g. the importance of time in smoker’s lives in relation to decisions about stopping and starting, times in the day when smoking is important, smoking and not-smoking over the life course;
  • The fact that this social scientific and humanities-derived understanding would not stop at theoretical conclusions but we would aim to use conclusions to inform policy and therapeutic interventions.  The needs of policy and therapy would, however, not drive the direction or content of the research.

Marlene Dietrich Smoking

There does not seem to be a group in the UK with a focus that takes research in this field outside public health but which nevertheless seeks to inform policy and practice within it.  SIG’s mixture of disciplinary strengths in medical anthropology and medical humanities with access to other disciplines, such as English studies, philosophy, geography, theology, and links in clinical medicine through the Affiliates structure in CMH, has the potential to enable us to do distinctive work in this area where there may be an emerging challenge relating to smokers who find giving up difficult or who feel that this is not a desirable option for them.  Being situated in the North East, which has a high smoking prevalence and is noteworthy in having a smoking prevalence in women which is now higher than men, makes such research in this region even more important.

Kate Moss (Guardian Photograph)

SIG is a collaborative venture led by Jane Macnaughton and CMH Affiliate from Anthropology, Andrew Russell and involving Affiliates Sue Lewis (SMH), Susana Caro-Ripalda (Anthropology), PhD students Frances Thirlway and Peter Stelfox and anyone else who has an interest in this field.  As a group we meet every 6-8 weeks to discuss relevant literature, develop research proposals and stimulate new written contributions to smoking research.  We plan a launch event in September 2011 (watch this space!) and are currently working on a research proposal to explore the growing epidemic of smoking amongst women in four international sites across three continents.  Marlene’s, and more recently, Kate Moss’s, style seems to be one that has resonance in many women’s lives.


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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3 Responses to The Smoking Interest Group – SIG – will launch in September 2011

  1. Pingback: On Durham University’s acceptance of a donation from British American Tobacco – Debating the Ethical Issues | Centre for Medical Humanities Blog

  2. Pingback: Durham’s Smoking Interest Group (SIG) Goes ‘Big’ | Centre for Medical Humanities Blog

  3. Dear SIG members
    I was happy to learn about your collaborative venture, its “critical public health” approach, and
    the preliminary dimensions: the phenomenological, object relations, identity , socio-cultural etc.

    I am very interested in possible collaboration.
    As you will see from my cv ( ) I am a retired researcher in psychology, and started, in the mid 90’ies with my students, as a teacher of qualitative Research methods, the development and preliminay testing of a research tool “Phenomenalog!, to run on 6 of the first macintosh laptops, generously supplied by the Scandinavian Tobacco Company.
    My concerns at the time were wider, as I was engaged in the development and maintenance of an “experimental home” facility at the Institute of Psychology, University of Copenhagen, with a focus on the new options for video- and audio self-documentation, coming into reach of private households and families.
    With a firm basis in Phenomenology and a focus on everyday-life and the complexities of domestic functions: material household, body household and information-household, I was aiming towards enabling inhabitants to document, to themselves, the constitution and particulars of daily cycles of behavioural and phenomenological contexts . Not with a view for testing hypotheses and general laws (which my colleges would have liked) , My relevances were tied to a notion of citizen science, and empowering of citizen self-documentation.
    One aspect of this was the development of a kind of shorthand, pictograms/glyphs, enabling a one-click, automatically time-stamped, journaling of behavioral and phenomenological typicalities.
    The electronic diary, which I since have been developing now over a period of app 15 years, is organized so that it can be adapted (by user or by caretaker) to very different kinds of relevancies. I have lately targeted health issues ( see my paper on “dimensions of the patient journey”),
    But I think, that targeting the smoking experience would be a welcome return to a basic issue..
    The actual version /(19.0.3) offers, besides a cigarette glyph-button , which is tied in with a counting function, also qualifying buttons for; social smoking, conform-smoking, alcohol-smoking, drunk-smoking, chain-smoking, fall-down-smoking, wait-smoking, rest-smoking, angry-smoking.
    I am not too happy for these typification, dont use them in my own daily jourmaling, – but wouldnt exclude the future evolvement of a better arsenal.
    I think empirical work must be essential. To explore the phenomenology of smoking, we must look for cigarette smokers willing to engage in a self-documentary enterprise, which will permit the contextualizing of smoking acts within other habits and endeavours.

    The program – which is freeware – can be downloaded from
    A first approach to a site for users of the program is :
    Krestens e-mail: kresten.bjerg at telefon:(0045) 28259939 arbejdsadresse: ”SiteInvent” Vennemindevej 59, 2100 København

    I add some abstracts. With links:

    2007, Moskva:
    Empowering Citizen Self-documentation: Re-inventing the Diary –

    ABSTRACT – The paper outlines a series of assumptions about the future of ICT in the global broadband society and presents the theoretical reasoning behind a conceptual model, posing the notions of the “oikosphere” ( from greek Oikos=Home) and the “somasphere”, and the formation of adequate reflexive tools as indispensable and necessary basis for any farsighted user oriented developmental agenda.
    It describes the background history and prolonged development of an early prototype of a reflexive tool, and goes into details concerning an instrumental innovation: Anticipated collaborative development of a global nucleus of glyphs referring to typicality’s of events and phenomena pertaining to the everyday life of citizens anchored in domestic settings, – outside or inside the broadband society.
    It places this developmental agenda in the context of a wider vision of an upcoming free-ware information-economy, where each person has a personal laptop, and challenges the traditional role of research as conducted by professionals with the notion of Citizen Science, empowering any citizen to collect empirically validated data concerning ongoing proximal phenomena
    Advantages to be gained from this type of approach e.g. in learning and healthcare are explicated, and a call for collaborative cross-cultural efforts to elaborate and refine this type of instrument is made.

    København, 2009 A
    ABSTRACT – I advocate a new order of information-democratic citizen science though development of software tools, fitting the needs of the citizen’s informed daily accountability and everyday relevance, independent of proprietary platforms & computer programs.
    I propose a toolset for individuals to conduct and self-organize own information-handling: an electronic journal, as a practical “bridge” for the citizen’s navigation through a personal everyday life and its shifting relevancies.
    It is grounded in concepts of personal constructs, the phenomenological and social structures of the individual life world, categories of relevance and the way both social reality and subjective reality are organized though identified typicalities of events and situations. And it integrates notions of the self as a reflexive project and notions of time-geographical description with Tristine Rainer’s notions of the new diary
    I introduce the concepts of oikosphere, somasphere and iconosphere as basic for a prototype of an electronic diary.
    The division of labour between left and right cerebral hemisphere favours that “glyphs” for subjective typicalities of events and situations can serve as effective shorthand for verbatim record.
    From this I derive the roots and stem for a more or less global glyph alphabet, based on intrapersonal communication more than on interpersonal communication, – in principle independent of written language.
    The electronic diary is explicitly open source and freeware, and as such useable from day one by any citizen, who owns a laptop. Relevance to the educational system, the health system, the correctional system, the energy-saving system, the consumer-protection system and the exporting-democracy systems is noted.
    Info-overload, Self-management, Electronic diary, Health-care, Cognitive Stress, Cognitive skills, Documentary power. Accountability, Democracy-export, Biotelemetry, Phenomenology, Pictograms, Glyphs, Creativity

    København 2009 B

    ABSTRACT – I raise the question how a tool permitting us to follow our own endeavours, habits and thoughts in an electronic journal (across the cerebral hemispheres: analogue -in pictograms- and digital -in words) can be fitted to medical needs,
    I stress the pragmatic value such an illustrated diary could have, providing long-term empirical data flows in diagnostic, therapeutic and self regulatory processes, not least in providing telemetric data from relevant physiological parameters, as enabled by the growth in the area of physiological sensors and transmitters.
    I further stress ways in which our thinking about interfacing the most trusted helper should be differentiated into
    A) the sedimenting textual chat, where exchange is relatively undemanding for both parties and
    B) the privileged virtual face-to-face & virtual room-to-room conversations, and their multidimensionality.
    Here the shareable journal, and the shareable mapping of the client’s scenography play a central role in the interfacing, and so does the client’s mapping of relevant cyberspace, and the health-educational aspects of such mapping, also shareable with the doctor.
    Expected constraints on such developments are exemplified, but expected enablers from the educational system,, the correctional system, the energy-saving system, the consumer-protection system and the exporting-democracy systems are noted.
    Free and shareable tools for self-documentation must be the ultimate in ascendant innovations, because they proceed upward and onwards from the ground level of users’ exploration and parsing, seeking to improve what they can do with already-existing technologies and services
    Keywords: Self-management, Shared care, Shared journal, Diary, Compliance, Chronic Disease, Health care, Health costs, Open source, Freeware, Multimedia Interfacing, Tele-monitoring

    2011: Dimensions of the Patient Journey – Charting and sharing the patient journey with long term user-driven support systems.
    Chap. In , User-Driven Healthcare and Narrative Medicine: Utilizing Collaborative Social Networks and Technologies, edited by Rakesh Biswas and Carmel M. Martin

    ABSTRACT – The ways a person’s illnesses and afflictions are socially constructed and culturally conceived amongst relatives and friends as biographically contextualized in the narratives of a known life-journey are contrasted with modern conceptions of “Patient Journey” in the digitalizing of medical care in hospitals and in computerized GP Consultations
    In this chapter most relevant dimensions of a personal life-journey support system – across health, handicaps and illness – are outlined. The chapter demonstrates a new road to facilitate private logging of phenomena, a coherent and sedimenting self-narrative not only in text, picture and sound, but also through user-network-developed pictographic fonts.
    Inclusion of biotelemetric data and virtual body imaging as part of such support systems are considered. And questions are raised concerning the future of thus skilled chronic patients’ interfacing most trusted helpers, fellow-sufferers and wider shared social platforms of Patient Journey Records.

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