CHHS Research Seminar – Professor Helen Lambert

On February 23rd we were joined by Professor Helen Lambert who discussed, ‘Global Health challenges: Anthropological reflections’.

In this talk, Professor Lambert drew on her secondment to UKRI as Challenge Leader for Global Health and on three decades of experience as an anthropologist working on public and global health issues to reflect on changing approaches to configuring ‘global health’.  She considered what is needed for achieving interdisciplinarity and equitable collaboration and reflected on the role of the humanities and social sciences in addressing global challenges.

CHHS Research Seminar

On the 8th December the CHHS was joined by Dan Degerman who spoke to members about ‘Naturalism, Mental Disorder and Epistemic Injustice’.


Degerman explained that naturalistic understandings of human experiences and differences are at the root of much epistemic injustice, according to a growing body of critical scholarship. Naturalistic understandings frame matters like mental disorder, disease, and disability in terms of individual, biological dysfunction. In the process, they marginalise alternative interpretive resources that could permit people to perceive and articulate social origins and solutions to their own or other people’s distress. Critics argue that the consequent obscuring of social factors is epistemically harmful. More specifically, it constitutes a hermeneutical injustice because it deprives individuals of sense-making resources. To redress this injustice, these critics say we must undermine dominant naturalistic understandings and create more pluralistic interpretive resources.

Degerman argued that naturalistic understandings can be epistemically beneficial not just despite but because they obscure social factors. He did this by considering how some individuals with bipolar disorder regard and deploy the neurobiological understanding of their disorder, highlighting three functions it fills for them: explanation, declamation, and decontestation. Through performing these functions, the neurobiological understanding does marginalise alternative, social perspectives on bipolar disorder. However, this can be understood as a feature rather than a bug. By marginalising alternative explanations, the neurobiological understanding can help individuals with bipolar disorder resist epistemic injustice, for example, in the form of attempts to trivialise their experiences. Given this, those seeking to undermine naturalistic understandings of mental disorder – and indeed illnesses, disability, and other experiences – in the pursuit of epistemic justice are themselves at risk of contributing to epistemic injustice

CHHS and History Research Seminar: Dr Rebecca Scales

We were joined by Rebecca Scales on November 24th to hear about her work entitled, ‘Inventing Polio Care at the Colonie de Saint-Fargeau Disability and the Welfare State in Interwar France’.

Scales noted that in 1919, a polio survivor and Red Cross nurse named Ellen Poidatz created France’s first residential polio care facility for children, the Colonie de Saint-Fargeau, building directly off of her wartime work with disabled veterans. Like many wealthy bourgeois women of the era, Poidatz forged a professional career for herself in the “para-political” space of the interwar welfare state, relying on a combination of private donations and state subventions to create a unique institution that integrated orthopedic surgery, rehabilitation, and education for children. To obtain funds for the Colonie, Poidatz situated her work within the dominant eugenics and natalist politics of the 1920s, arguing that rehabilitating disabled children would preserve “the youth [France] so desperately needed.” Yet Poidatz and her staff (many of whom were disabled) also sought to create a “familial environment” for the children in their care by offering themselves as living models of successful disabled adults. This talk interrogated the “family politics” of Saint-Fargeau, examined why Poidatz felt compelled to use familialist metaphors to justify her social work, but also the complex negotiations—over medical treatment and outcomes, education, long-term family separation—that sometimes divided parents, children, and medical personnel. Finally, Scales considered how the Colonie de Saint-Fargeau’s “family politics” turned it into a model institution for France’s hybrid public-private welfare state that shaped the treatment of disabled children into the post-WWII era.

CHHS Event: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Covid-19

On the 3rd of November the Centre for Health, Humanities and Science brought together scholars from a range of disciplines to host a Covid-19 workshop. Speakers included CHHS Steering Group members, Faculty of Arts colleagues, artists and clinicians. The full programme can be found below.

Professor Ulrika Maude, Director of the CHHS, thanked all participants for their wonderfully thought-provoking, moving and eloquent papers. We received a lot of enthusiastic comments and praise from audience members, one of whom referred to the event itself as ‘transformative’.



Centre for Health, Humanities and Science

University of Bristol

 Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Covid-19

1pm – 1:30: Lunch

1:30pm – 2:30pm: Giovanni Biglino (Bristol Medical School), Sofie Layton (Artist) and Chiara Bucciarelli-Ducci (NHS and Bristol Medical School), ‘COVID-19 through the Lens of Medical Students: Engagement and Artistic Representation’

2:30pm – 3:00pm: Martin Hurcombe (University of Bristol), ‘Active in Lockdown: Recording Active Leisure during the Pandemic’

3:00 – 3:30: Cleo Hanaway-Oakley (University of Bristol), ‘“They give birth astride a grave”: My Pandemic Pregnancy’

3:30 – 4:00: Refreshments

4:00pm – 4:30pm: Ali Round (University of Bristol), ‘Guided by the Science? Public Health during the Covid-19 Pandemic’

4:30pm – 5:00pm: Havi Carel (University of Bristol), ‘Transformative Pandemic Phenomenology’

5:00 – 5:30: Discussion and Closing Words

CHHS research seminar + English Department (online) – Dr Doug Battersby, Dr Louise Benson James, Dr Sarah Daw

On the 6th of October the CHHS co-hosted a research seminar with the English Department.

Dr Doug Battersby presented his paper ‘The Novel and the Heart’. In his talk, Battersby introduced his Marie Curie Global Fellowship project, “The Novel and the Heart: 1840–1940,” which will be carried out at Stanford University and the University of Bristol. The heart is perhaps the single most important trope in Western literary culture, widely exploited by writers to explore questions about authenticity and self-knowledge, virtue and ethical commitment, emotion and embodiment, illness and health, and volition and sexual desire. Such questions became the central preoccupation of literary fiction in the Victorian and modernist periods, and it is therefore not surprising that the heart features prominently in numerous canonical works, from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847) to James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922). But whilst previous interdisciplinary studies have shown how the heart’s cultural meanings have changed dramatically from the Medieval period onwards, these studies have not extended beyond the mid-19th century and have explicitly set the novel form aside as less worthy of interest than poetry, with its apparently more intuitive connection to cardiac rhythms. Battersby’s project will examine how representations of the heart in novels by canonical British and Irish writers evolved in dialogue with scientific and medical understandings of the organ specifically and the body generally.

Dr Louise Benson James presented her paper ‘Intracorporeal Narratives: Reading Internal Biology in Women’s Literature, 1880s-1930s. This paper introduced Benson James’ Marie Skłodowska-Curie project at Ghent University, entitled ‘Intracorporeal Narratives: Reading Internal Biology in Women’s Literature, 1880s-1930s’. The project examines British and American women’s fiction for its depictions of internal anatomy: organs and systems, circulatory, nervous, reproductive, and digestive, to analyse how women’s writing communicates bodily experiences and depicts the ‘intracorporeal’, narrative journeys through concealed and invisible organs. Benson James questioned: how do visualisations of the body’s insides and internal workings change through time? Does literature reflect medical developments and discoveries, for example echoing the shift from the nervous to the hormonal body? How are metaphors employed to aid us in visualising these systems and parts: the nervous system as a network of vibrating strings, hormones as postal packages or chemical messages, the sperm and egg as static and kinetic, the biological clock? Benson James is interested in the persistent desire to find a physiological rationale, to map pain internally, even when that pain has an emotional or psychological source. The project also explores how changing conceptualisations of the body interact with gendered notions of pathology and disorder. Comparing fictional texts to medical writing and advertising of the same era, it will track the development of and interaction between the medical understanding of the internal body, communication in the public realm, and exploration in literature.

Dr Sarah Daw presented her paper ‘Imagining the (Eco)Future: Ecotopian Thought in an Age of Climate Breakdown’. ‘Ecotopian’, or ecologically-ideal, visions of humanity’s future in the Anthropocene are a negligible presence within contemporary British and North American climate change discourse, particularly in comparison to the abundance of apocalyptic and dystopian depictions of the future. Apocalyptic narratives of the future are increasingly prevalent in contemporary discourse, as the climate crisis becomes ever more acute and rises further up global news agendas. There is also mounting evidence that, in the years since ecocritic Lawrence Buell argued that apocalypse constitutes the “single most powerful master metaphor that the contemporary environmental imagination has at its disposal”, far from promoting action and engagement, apocalyptic framing actually works to compound inaction and avoidance. However, despite the growing body of ecocritical work demonstrating the problems arising from the prevalence of apocalyptic imagery and thought within environmental writing, relatively little critical attention has been paid to its antithesis – depictions of ‘ecotopian’, or ecologically ideal, futures. This talk introduced Daw’s Marie Curie Global Fellowship research on ‘ecotopia’, which investigates the presence and absence of ecotopian visions of the future within contemporary climate change writing across disciples. In order to contextualise this new research, Daw outlined the Cold War history of modern environmentalism, considered the contemporary influence of this mid-century history, and discussed the lack of critical attention to ecotopian writing and thought within the field of ecocriticism.

CHHS Party

On the 30th September members of the University were warmly invited to a Centre for Health, Humanities and Science party. This event provided an opportunity for current CHHS members and those interested in learning more about the Centre to meet with colleagues, discuss shared research interests and hear more about the work of the Centre over light refreshments.


CHHS Research Seminar (online) – Dr Anthony Fernandez

On Wednesday, 2 June Dr Anthony Fernandez spoke at the Centre for Health, Humanities and Science Research Seminar. The title of his talk was ‘How to Empathize by Objectifying’.

In the literature on empathy in medicine, it’s common to contrast empathic openness with an objectifying attitude. In empathic openness, the clinician perceives the patient as an embodied subject expressive of intentions, desires, and emotions. In an objectifying attitude, on the other hand, the clinician perceives the patient as a mere body or as an organism with a physiological dysfunction. Beginning with the phenomenological studies of Drew Leder and S. Kay Toombs, and continuing through the present discourse in the field, phenomenologists have typically argued that clinicians should avoid objectifying their patients because it’s harmful, dehumanizing, and undermines effective care. Fernandez argued that these popular phenomenological characterizations rely on an oversimplified understanding of the relationship between empathy and objectification: The empathic and objectifying attitudes should not be understood as fundamentally opposed because, in some cases, fully empathizing requires that the empathizer partially objectify the empathee. Using the example of interacting with someone with Tourette’s Syndrome, Fernandez demonstrated how objectifying certain aspects their movements actually facilitates rather than impedes empathic understanding. Moreover, Fernandez argued that this example should motivate phenomenologists to rethink some key aspects of their traditional understanding of objectification.

CHHS Research Seminar (online) – Dr Elizabeth Barry

Dr Elizabeth Barry presented her paper ‘”We Hang Up Laughing”: Laughter, Dementia and Time’ to CHHS members on the 3rd of March.

Barry’s paper explored the phenomenology of time for those with dementia, exploring the implications of the loss of the ability to expect, as well as to remember, and how this conditions lived experience. The paper was informed in this endeavour by neurophenomenological explorations of expectation and surprise undertaken by Francisco Varela and Natalie Depraz. The paper considered the interaction of this disordered experience of time with the chronometric, task-oriented temporality of the care setting. Finally, it explored the role of laughter, and its own particular temporality, in communication, care and therapy for those with dementia. It took as its evidence memoirs by those with dementia and by caregivers, as well as qualitative studies in psychology, sociology and linguistics that investigate the lived experience of dementia.


CHHS Research Seminar (online) – Dr Luna Dolezal

Dr Luna Dolezal addressed CHHS members on February 3rd to discuss ”Fat Shaming’ under Neoliberalism and COVID-19: Examining the UK’s ‘Tackling Obesity’ Campaign’.

Dolezal’s article explored the dynamics between fat shaming, neoliberalism, ideological constructions of health and the ‘obesity epidemic’ within the UK, using the Tory Government’s recent Tackling Obesity campaign in response to COVID-19 as illustrative. Dolezal drew attention to the ways in which ‘fat shaming’ as a practice that encourages open disdain for those living with excess weight operates as a moralising tool to regulate and manage those who are viewed as ‘bad’ citizens (LeBesco, 2004). In doing so she begins by outlining how the ideological underpinnings of ‘health’ have been transformed under neoliberalism. She then considers the problematic use of fat shaming language that is often used as a tool to promote ‘healthy’ lifestyle choices by those who view it as not only an acceptable way of communicating the health risks associated with obesity, but also a productive way of motivating people with overweight and obesity to lose weight (Brown and Baker, 2013, p. 24). Drawing on Graham Scambler’s theoretical framework regarding shame and blame (2020), Dolezal discussed how “heaping blame on shame” has become a “wilful political strategy” under neoliberalism, particularly as it relates to individuals with excess weight or obesity, and how the Tacking Obesity campaign leverages fat shaming as a means to encourage normative models of self-care and self-discipline.

CHHS + English Department Research Seminar (online) – Dr Maria Vaccerella

On December 2nd we were joined by CHHS Steering Group member, Dr Maria Vaccarella, who discussed ‘Illness as Fiction’.

Vaccarella noted that amidst the rise of fake news and Internet hoaxes, bogus illness accounts are particularly troubling, given their potential to undermine the benefits of online peer-support communities, to erode trust in expert medical knowledge, and to promote ineffective, if not lethal, alternative therapies.

In this talk, Vaccarella presented her project “Illness as Fiction: Textual Afflictions in Print and Online”, which investigates the narrative construction of fake patient identities both in book form and on social media. With the help of illness narratives scholarship, Vaccarella questioned whether these texts constitute an extreme form of pathographical writing and she illustrated what they can teach us about the relationship between autobiography and fiction.