Review of “Getting Better – Concepts of Recovery in Medicine and Society from 1900 to the Present”

Stephen Soanes is an Early Career Fellow at the Centre for the History of Medicine/ Institute of Advanced Study, University of Warwick. In September 2011 he convened a workshop on the topic of Getting Better, reviewed here for readers of the Centre for Medical Humanities blog:

Today the media is saturated with references to recovery. Journalistic assessments of global economic recovery sit alongside reports into political prescriptions for a cure to Britain’s ‘broken’ society. In medicine, new treatments and therapies are regularly appraised for the potential they offer to promote improvement. Getting Better offered a forum for researchers to engage with the conceptual origins and intersections of modern ideas of recovery since 1900.

The event attracted an interdisciplinary audience from across the UK, including philosophers, historians, medical researchers and practitioners, psychologists and sociologists.  Several themes came out of the workshop that indicated not only the usefulness of engagement at this interdisciplinary level, but furthermore suggested that there are analytical connections to be made between medical, social and economic (etc…) notions of recovery. One area of particular interest was in how far social institutions challenge and channel personal narratives of recovery. The contestability of recovery is an area that it seems merits further scholarly attention, particularly in the light of current policies such as those associated with the recovery movement, which place a high value on patient input into interpretations of their own prognosis.

During the lively discussions, another theme (and question) to emerge was where to define the limits of recovery/ improvement. In particular, participants debated the applicability of terms of recovery in relation to chronic medical conditions. Equally, other papers raised the importance of human psychology and social organisation in ways that questioned the achievability of improvement in an imperfect world. Such insights indicate the desirability of further events in the future, which are now under discussion. I would invite readers of this blog with an interest in such topics – and perhaps ideas for future initiatives in this area – to email me.

Thanks go to all the speakers and attendees who provided such lively and thought-provoking reflections, to the Roberts’ Fund for financial support and to the IAS at Warwick, which provided an ideal setting for the event… which it is hoped will be the first of many.

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