Journal: Medical humanities
Eligibility for social security benefits in many advanced economies is dependent on unemployed and underemployed people carrying out an expanding range of job search, training and work preparation activities, as well as mandatory unpaid labour (workfare). Increasingly, these activities include interventions intended to modify attitudes, beliefs and personality, notably through the imposition of positive affect. Labour on the self in order to achieve characteristics said to increase employability is now widely promoted. This work and the discourse on it are central to the experience of many claimants and contribute to the view that unemployment is evidence of both personal failure and psychological deficit. The use of psychology in the delivery of workfare functions to erase the experience and effects of social and economic inequalities, to construct a psychological ideal that links unemployment to psychological deficit, and so to authorise the extension of state-and state-contracted-surveillance to psychological characteristics. This paper describes the coercive and punitive nature of many psycho-policy interventions and considers the implications of psycho-policy for the disadvantaged and excluded populations who are its primary targets. We draw on personal testimonies of people experiencing workfare, policy analysis and social media records of campaigns opposed to workfare in order to explore the extent of psycho-compulsion in workfare. This is an area that has received little attention in the academic literature but that raises issues of ethics and professional accountability and challenges the field of medical humanities to reflect more critically on its relationship to psychology.
In the wake of the Corrupted Blood incident, which afflicted the massively multiplayer online computer role-playing game World of Warcraft in 2005, it has been suggested that both, the incident itself and massively multiplayer online computer role-playing games in general, can be utilised to inform and assist real-world epidemic and public health research. In this paper, I engage critically with these claims.
In late 19th century Paris, people with epilepsy were treated alongside those with hysteria in the now famous Salpêtrière Hospital, where both conditions were deemed to have a neurological basis. When Jean Martin Charcot became chief physician at the Salpêtrière Hospital in 1862, he described himself ‘in possession of a kind of museum of living pathology whose holdings were virtually inexhaustible’. He opened the doors of his ‘living museum’ and exhibited his prize specimens to all of Paris. By putting his patients on display, Charcot introduced a vogue for pathology that permeated well beyond the world of medical enquiry and into the public psyche and vernacular. Not only did Charcot’s demonstrations provide the inspiration for high culture in the form of operas, plays and novels, they also provided the inspiration for the ‘gommeuses epileptiques’ (epileptic singers), who entertained the masses at the café concerts. This paper explores the foundations of our current medical approaches to mental illness and epilepsy, with a particular focus on the boundaries that emerged between hysteria and epilepsy in 19th century Paris. These clinical boundaries were both shaped by and reflected in the popular entertainments in the city.
F Scott Fitzgerald spent the 1930s writing about illness themes while he struggled with tuberculosis, insomnia, alcoholism, heart disease and the mental illness of his wife Zelda. During this decade, Fitzgerald published six stories that prominently feature hospitals and healthcare professionals. These stories, the ‘doctor-nurse stories’, along with nine additional published stories that touch upon medical themes have not previously been investigated as a thematic grouping. This paper explores the 1930s stories in the context of Fitzgerald’s life and career in order to highlight his significant yet previously undervalued contribution to the canon of illness literature and his work’s relevance to the field of literature and medicine.
This paper reports on a qualitative evaluation of a Norfolk-based network of community singing workshops aimed at people with mental health conditions and the general public. The aims of the study were (a) to evaluate the effectiveness of the Sing Your Heart Out (SYHO) project and (b) to identify the key features which made the project distinctive. The study draws on 20 interviews with participants, two focus groups with organisers and workshop leaders, and participative observation over a 6-month period. Interviewees all reported improvement in or maintenance of their mental health and well-being as a direct result of engagement in the singing workshops. For most it was a key component, and for some the only and sufficient component in their recovery and ongoing psychological stability. SYHO was regarded as different from choirs and from most other social groups and also different from therapy groups, music or otherwise. The combination of singing with an inclusive social aspect was regarded as essential in effecting recovery. The lack of pressure to discuss their condition and the absence of explicit therapy was also mentioned by most participants as an important and welcome element in why SYHO worked for them. The combination of singing and social engagement produced an ongoing feeling of belonging and well-being. Attendance provided them with structure, support and contact that improved functioning and mood. We conclude that the SYHO model offers a low-commitment, low-cost tool for mental health recovery within the community.
Clinical language applied to early pregnancy loss changed in late twentieth century Britain when doctors consciously began using the term ‘miscarriage’ instead of ‘abortion’ to refer to this subject. Medical professionals at the time and since have claimed this change as an intuitive empathic response to women’s experiences. However, a reading of medical journals and textbooks from the era reveals how the change in clinical language reflected legal, technological, professional and social developments. The shift in language is better understood in the context of these historical developments, rather than as the consequence of more empathic medical care for women who experience miscarriage.
Modern medicine is confronted with cultural crossings in various forms. In facing these challenges, it is not enough to simply increase our insight into the cultural dimensions of health and well-being. We must, more radically, question the conventional distinction between the ‘objectivity of science’ and the ‘subjectivity of culture’. This obligation creates an urgent call for the medical humanities but also for a fundamental rethinking of their grounding assumptions.Julia Kristeva (JK) has problematised the biomedical concept of health through her reading of the anthropogony of Cura (Care), who according to the Roman myth created man out of a piece of clay. JK uses this fable as an allegory for the cultural distinction between health construed as a ‘definitive state’, which belongs to biological life (bios), and healing as a durative ‘process with twists and turns in time’ that characterises human living (zoe). A consequence of this demarcation is that biomedicine is in constant need of ‘repairing’ and bridging the gap between bios and zoe, nature and culture. Even in radical versions, the medical humanities are mostly reduced to such an instrument of repairment, seeing them as what we refer to as a soft, ‘subjective’ and cultural supplement to a stable body of ‘objective’, biomedical and scientific knowledge. In this article, we present a prolegomenon to a more radical programme for the medical humanities, which calls the conventional distinctions between the humanities and the natural sciences into question, acknowledges the pathological and healing powers of culture, and sees the body as a complex biocultural fact. A key element in such a project is the rethinking of the concept of ‘evidence’ in healthcare.
Despite shame being recognised as a powerful force in the clinical encounter, it is underacknowledged, under-researched and undertheorised in the contexts of health and medicine. In this paper we make two claims. The first is that emotional or affective states, in particular shame, can have a significant impact on health, illness and health-related behaviours. We outline four possible processes through which this might occur: (1) acute shame avoidance behaviour; (2) chronic shame health-related behaviours; (3) stigma and social status threat and (4) biological mechanisms. Second, we postulate that shame’s influence is so insidious, pervasive and pernicious, and so critical to clinical and political discourse around health, that it is imperative that its vital role in health, health-related behaviours and illness be recognised and assimilated into medical, social and political consciousness and practice. In essence, we argue that its impact is sufficiently powerful for it to be considered an affective determinant of health, and provide three justifications for this. We conclude with a proposal for a research agenda that aims to extend the state of knowledge of health-related shame.
Like many other disciplines, medicine often resorts to metaphor in order to explain complicated concepts that are imperfectly understood. But what happens when medicine’s metaphors close off thinking, restricting interpretations and opinions to those of the negative kind? This paper considers the deleterious effects of destructive metaphors that cluster around pain. First, the metaphoric basis of all knowledge is introduced. Next, a particular subset of medical metaphors in the domain of neurology (doors/keys/wires) are shown to encourage mechanistic thinking. Because schematics are often used in medical textbooks to simplify the complex, this paper traces the visual metaphors implied in such schematics. Mechanistic-metaphorical thinking results in the accumulation of vast amounts of data through experimentation, but this paper asks what the real value of the information is since patients can generally only expect modest benefits - or none at all - for relief from chronic pain conditions. Elucidation of mechanism through careful experimentation creates an illusion of vast medical knowledge that, to a significant degree, is metaphor-based. This paper argues that for pain outcomes to change, our metaphors must change first.
This paper argues for an approach within the medical humanities that draws on the theoretical legacy of cultural materialism as a framework for reading cultural practices and their relationship to the social and economic order. It revisits the origins and development of cultural materialism in cultural studies and literary studies between the 1970s and 1990s and considers how, with adaptation, this methodology might facilitate ideological criticism focused on material formations of health, disease and the human body. I outline three key characteristics of a medicocultural materialist approach along these lines: (a) interdisciplinary work on a broad range of medical and cultural sources, including those drawn from ‘popular’ forms of culture; (b) the combination of historicist analysis with scrutiny of present-day contexts; © analyses that engage with political economy perspectives and/or the work of medical sociology in this area. The subsequent sections of the paper employ a medicocultural materialist approach to examine conjectural understandings of, and empirical investigations into, the capacity of transfused human blood to rejuvenate the ageing body. I trace textual faultlines that expose the structures of power which inform the movement of blood between bodies in ‘medical gothic’ fictions from the 19th-century fin de siècle, including Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s ‘Good Lady Ducayne’ (1896) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897). I conclude with a critique of biomedical innovations in blood rejuvenation in the era of medical neoliberalism, before considering the potential applications of medicocultural materialism to other topics within the field of the medical humanities.