CHHS and ‘Sense and Sensations’ cluster Research Seminar: Professor Hannah Thompson

Professor Hannah Thompson joined the CHHS on 02/11/2022 to discuss ‘”Blindness Gain” and the Danger of Accessible Art’.

This talk used examples from 3 Parisian art galleries to argue for a new approach to the display and interpretation of art. Most large museums and galleries work hard to make a few pieces of art accessible to blind and partially blind beholders. My research shows that this kind of access can do more harm than good. Here, I will use my theory of “blindness gain” to suggest that more inclusive approaches, informed by the practice of ‘creative audio description’ are the best way to create properly inclusive gallery experiences for everyone.


CHHS Research Seminar: Dr Luis De Miranda

On Wednesday 5 October, CHHS welcomed our first speaker of the year, Dr Luis de Miranda. The seminar was chaired by Professor Ulrika Maude, the director of the CHHS.
Dr Luis de Miranda is a researcher at the Center for Medical Humanities at Uppsala University, Sweden, the initiator of the Philosophical Health International network ( and the author of a dozen books translated into various languages, including Being and Neonness (MIT Press). His talk was entitled ‘Sense-Making Interviews Looking at Elements of Philosophical Health: Introducing the New SMILE_PH Method through the Case of Spinal Cord Injury’.
He told us about his new semi-structured interviewing method SMILE_PH, an acronym for Sense-Making Interviews Looking at Elements of Philosophical Health. As well as explaining the theoretical underpinnings of his method (including work by Maurice Merleau-Ponty and other phenomenological thinkers), he described some interesting case studies based on a pilot study he conducted with people living with spinal cord injury (SCI). The SMILE_PH method progressively gathers phenomenological information about 1 – our bodily sense; 2 – our sense of self, 3 – our sense of belonging; 4 – our sense of the possible; 5 – our sense of purpose and 6 – our philosophical sense. Dr de Miranda explained that his main motivation is pragmatic: he wants to provide the recent philosophical health movement with a testable method and show that philosophically-oriented interviews are possible in a manner that can be reproduced, compared and used systematically with a population that has received no training in philosophy. It was fascinating to hear about the ways in which philosophy can enrich medicine, and vice versa.

CHHS and Philosophy Department Research Seminar: Dr Jamila Rodrigues

Dr Jamila Rodrigues joined the CHHS on June 14th to present a talk entitled ‘Finding IKIGAI during times of crisis’.



Our ways of overcoming times of crisis critically depend on cultural ideas of living well since cultures conceptualise/experience well-being differently. This topic has raised interest in the social sciences, especially since the COVID-19 Pandemic. Rodrigues’ appeal is to understand how different people express well-being in the life settings in which they live. This talk focused on Japan, and the concept of ikigai (生き甲斐), translated as “a purpose in life” to address the question: how do Japanese people seem to balance well-being, life meaning, and joy in life during pandemic crisis? 

Firstly, Rodrigues drew from the Japanese participant’s narratives from a large-scale project, Experiences of Social Distancing during the COVID-19 Pandemic. She used Ikigai-9, a psychometric tool developed by Japanese scholars (Imai, Osada &Nishimura 2012), tested by scholars in the UK (Fido & Kotera 2019) to measure one’s reason for being through dimensions of emotions towards one’s life, one’s future, and the acknowledgment of one’s existence. Rodrigues proposed that ikigai is one way of looking at well-being from a cultural basis that helps people to make sense of their “being in the world” during times of crisis (i.e., COVID-19 Pandemic).

Secondly, Rodrigues presented the topic of her JSPS fellowship, which stems from the COVID-19 Pandemic Survey’s initial findings. The aim is to develop a framework that she calls “embodied ikigai,” based on cultural phenomenology (Csordas 1993), phenomenology of illness (Carel 2017), psychology (Kamiya 1966), and anthropology (Mathew 1996) studies on ikigai and Japan and cultural identity (Tanaka 2019). Rodrigues wishes to explore the idea that the gendered body can be understood as the subject of experience and that our bodies are the existential ground of self and culture. Focusing on ikigai as a bodily felt experience, Rodrigues wishes to clarify how Japanese women perceive ikigai as a cultural idea or motive in their lived experience through crisis.



Jamila Rodrigues is a postdoctoral researcher in the Embodied Cognitive Science Unit at OIST, where she contributes as a qualitative researcher to the COVID-19 pandemic experience. Rodrigues is a former dancer with extensive experience working as an anthropologist, doing ethnographic fieldwork in Europe, Africa, South America, and East Asia on embodiment, gender, religious studies, and selfhood expression (Rodrigues 2018). For her Master’s degree in Dance and Anthropology at the University of Cape Town, she received a Leverhulme Travel Abroad scholarship (2010-2012). She received the Vice Chancellor’s Scholarship for her DPhil in Anthropology and Islamic Ritual Studies at Roehampton University, UK (2014-2017). 

In 2020, Rodrigues was awarded a Great Sasakawa short trip scholarship to visit the International Research Centre for Japanese Studies (Kyoto), for which she also conducted preliminary fieldwork on Okinawan shaman’s (yuta) embodied ritual experience. Recently, Rodrigues was awarded a JSPS fellowship for her study on ikigai (生き甲斐), translated as “a purpose in life,” to analyse Japanese women’s narratives related to the role of the bodies in embodying ikigai during times of crisis.

CHHS Research Seminar: Dr Benjamin Smart

On June 1st, Dr Benjamin Smart joined CHHS members to discuss ‘How Covid-19 has brought to light the failure of One-Size-Fits-All approaches to public health’.

Abstract: Since late 2019, every country in the world has been battling the largest pandemic in a century. Covid-19 has infected nearly 500 million people worldwide, and killed 6 million of those (and the real figures for both deaths and infections are no doubt substantially higher). To combat the pandemic, nations put in place a variety of measures to slow the spread of the disease, including, in some cases, measures that all but shut down their economies (both formal and informal). This followed blanket advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO), which recommended strict lockdown policies on a global scale.

In this paper, Smart questioned the WHO recommendations. Evidence Based Public Health Policy guidelines emphasise the importance of cultural context when making policy decisions, and yet these considerations were largely ignored during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Countries were faced with a choice between more or less drastic measures to ‘flatten the curve’, but with a disease that rarely affected the young, one must wonder whether implementing measures that would inevitably lead to malnutrition and starvation for millions of people in Africa, as well as severely disrupting existing healthcare programmes on a continent where only 3% of the population are over 65, could have possibly been justified given the typical disease course of Covid-19 in the young.

Suppose you had a choice between two health policies, A and B. Policy A would result in the death of a lot of elderly people, and Policy B would result in the death of a lot of children, especially infants. Which would you choose?

Bio: Dr Benjamin Smart is an associate professor in philosophy. Prior to joining the University of Johannesburg in 2015 he lectured at The University of Birmingham (in the United Kingdom). He received his PhD from Nottingham University in 2012.

Smart’s research focuses on the metaphysics of laws and causation, and on the philosophy of medicine. He published a monograph entitled ‘Concepts and Causes in the Philosophy of Disease’ in 2016, and has numerous papers in highly ranked international philosophy journals. He has published articles on the metaphysics of least action principles, the problem of induction, the nature of fundamental properties, the philosophy of sport, and on the philosophy of health and disease.

Dr Smart believes that philosophical work in medicine can have a direct impact on society, and so also collaborates with academics in the medical sciences to address what some might call ‘real world problems’ in public health.

CHHS and English Department: Showcasing research at CHHS – a panel of flash papers

Members from the advisory board of the Centre for Health, Humanities and Science joined the English department to showcase their research on the 11th May 2022.

There was a panel of flash papers (followed by Q&A) to learn more about some of the research projects at the intersection of literature and medicine.

  • Cleo Hanaway-Oakley, ‘James Joyce and Non-normative Vision: Re-viewing the Blind Bard’
  • Abby Ashley, ‘Parenting whilst Autistic: Reclaiming ‘Wild’ Identities in (M)otherhood’
  • Maria Vaccarella, ‘Autofiction, Illness Narratives and Life-Writing in Maggie Nelson’s Bluets

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.