Research Area

Health and Medical Humanities

Understanding health, medicine and well-being

Health and Medical humanities is an emerging interdisciplinary field that incorporates the arts and humanities and the social sciences, and their application to understandings of medicine, health and well-being.

The distinctive strengths of health and medical humanities at Essex are an emphasis on the politicised dimensions of power and agency in everyday life, especially the differentiation of experiences according to gender, ‘race’, sexuality and age, and belief in the importance of applied practice to change individual experiences and social awareness of health and illness.

Our work in health and medical humanities clusters around three main themes: autonomy and rights; representation and experience; and embodiment and emotion. These core themes are pursued across disciplines including art history and history; drama, theatre and film studies; law and human rights; literature and creative writing; and philosophy.

Autonomy and rights

Scholars interested in autonomy and rights make creative interventions to increase well-being in, and amplify the voices of, socially and politically marginalised groups; seek to clarify concepts such as ‘decision-making capacity’, ‘will’, ‘ableness’ and ‘empowerment’ with a view to improving healthcare policy and practice; and aim to understand the relationship between health and human rights in global context in order to foster new approaches to accountability at state level.

Representation and experience

Those exploring representation and experience want to understand how texts, images and objects have shaped self-perception and social attitudes in societies past and present; to consider the different contexts and means of articulating knowledge about health and illness, with particular emphasis on whose experiences are privileged in public discourse, and why; and to create methods for narrativising experience that can bring the human into medical discourse in new and unexpected ways.

Embodiment and emotion

Those concerned with embodiment and emotion examine the effects of medical abuse and violence in diverse contexts, including courtrooms, birthing spaces and battlefields; seek to illuminate patient, practitioner and carer experiences such as powerlessness and anxiety in order to help people identify, understand and better cope with what is happening to them; and open out new techniques and spaces for empathy, healing and change.

Our members

Academic staff members working in health and medical humanities come from a range of disciplines.