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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study


Despite COVID-19, the IAS plans to hold a full programme of virtual lectures and seminars. Further events will be added to this page as they are scheduled.

'Structure and Quality of Life' - 2018 Annual IAS London Debate

24th May 2018, 19:30 to 22:00, Chartered Accountants’ Hall, One Moorgate Place, London, EC2R 6EA, Professor Kimberley Brownlee (University of Warwick); Bill Bryson OBE; Professor David Hunter (Newcastle University); Professor Brett Smith (University of Birmingham);

In scholarship, the concept of structure provides ideas about organizational principles and materials that usefully sit in opposition to notions of dis-organisation, loss of form and potential entropy. It cuts across disciplines, enabling consideration of the relationships between material, social, literary, architectural, musical and artistic structures and their – always contingent – capacities to provide certainty and continuity.

But how do structures take form in the natural world? How do they evolve over time, and what influences them? How are they actively composed by humans, other species, and symbiotically? And what is the relationship between natural and cultural structures? How are structure and function related in biology, architecture and engineering, and what lessons do these disciplinary areas provide for each other about structure-function relationships?

Structure and Quality of Life

From structure is derived how we define and measure something of intimate concern to all living beings: the Quality of Life (QoL). Medically, QoL is tautological: self-defined in terms of an individual’s own satisfaction (Canguilhem). But where does this subjective sense fit into the objective whole? Tellingly, the desire to measure QoL emphasises both inequities of structure and apparently objective indicators such as health and longevity.

In policy terms, new directives have increasingly looked to QoL for future generations (Environment Act (Wales) 2016). Yet what well-being is and how this can be understood across the lifecourse remains contested. Indeed, a very focus on measurable QoL actually a device to distract from the real inequities? Do measures ignore complex interactions among factors, and the fact that QoL may mean different things to different people (whose “quality of life”?). How can methods and measures anticipate rapid socio-demographic, technical, cultural and economic change? The panel will discuss definitions and explore the balance and relationality between static notions of structure and the fluidity of process that respond to environmental, social and cultural influences. Namely, the structuring of QoL from an exploratory, inter-disciplinary approach.

The panel will consider:

  • To what degree is Quality of Life measurable? If so, what are the key variables/ measures/ indicators?
  • How do people experience and embody structures, for example, through Quality of Life across the lifecourse?
  • What social obligations does this generate?
  • How does QoL inform the status of work and of leisure in a post-industrial society and what status should work enjoy vis-à-vis leisure?
  • What role can and should the natural environment fulfil here?
  • What is in harmony and what in competition?
  • Should QoL be evaluated as a cost/ benefit equation? (cf. ).

Panellists for this exciting event include

Kimberley Brownlee is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Warwick. Prior to this, she was a Senior Lecturer at the University of Manchester. She has held visiting positions at UCLA, Vanderbilt University, Oxford University, St Andrews University, and Duke University. Her current work focuses on social human rights, social virtue, loneliness, and freedom of association. Her recent work focused on conscience and conscientious disobedience. She is the author of Conscience and Conviction: The Case for Civil Disobedience (Oxford University Press 2012). Her current book project, Social Rights, is in preparation with Oxford University Press.

Bill Bryson OBE HonFRS is an Anglo-American author of books on travel, the English language, science, and other non-fiction topics. Born in the United States, he has been a resident of Britain for most of his adult life, returning to the United States between 1995 and 2003. He served as the chancellor of Durham University from 2005 to 2011.

David Hunter is Professor of Health Policy and Management, Institute of Health & Society, Newcastle University. A graduate in political science from Edinburgh University, his academic career spans over 40 years researching health policy with particular interests in public health and health systems transformation. Between 1999 and July 2017, David was Director of the Centre for Public Policy and Health at Durham University. It was designated a WHO Collaborating Centre in Complex Health Systems Research, Knowledge and Action in 2014. David is a special advisor on WHO Europe’s health system transformation initiative. He is a former non executive director of the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). He is an Honorary Member of the UK Faculty of Public Health, and Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians (Edinburgh).

Brett Smith is a Professor and the Director of Research within the School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences at the University of Birmingham. Working with organisations like Disability Rights UK, his research focuses on the promotion of health, wellbeing, and quality of life among disabled people. In addition to over 180 publications, Brett has given over 150 invited talks to audiences in numerous countries around the world, including to The Royal Society of Medicine and in the UK Houses of Parliament. He is founder and former editor of the international journal Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health.

The evening will be chaired by Dr Sam Hillyard, Reader in Sociology and IAS Co-Director for Social Sciences and Health. Dr Hillyard joined Durham University in 2006. She studied Sociology at Warwick University where she received both her BA and PhD. She has held posts at Lancaster University, Keele University and Nottingham University. Her work is informed by an enduring commitment to applied sociology, specifically the synergies between theoretical ideas and empirical ethnographic research. This interest has been applied across a variety of research settings: senior
academics in UK universities; policy makers and members of the farming and veterinary communities; social science research on game shooting in the UK and; the role of the school in rural communities. She sits on the editorial board of the journal Qualitative Research, is series editor of Studies in Qualitative Methodology and is also a member of the ESRC's peer-review college. Several publications have stemmed from her research including her most recent book Doing Fieldwork (2016; Sage) with Chris Pole.

This event will build on the success of previous IAS London events.

Organised by the Institute of Advanced Study, this event offers the Friends of the IAS and the wider Durham alumni network, colleagues and members of the public an opportunity to come together for what should prove to be a stimulating and engaging occasion.

Date: Thursday 24 May 2018
Time: 7.30pm – 10.00pm
Chartered Accountants’ Hall, One Moorgate Place, London, EC2R 6EA
Format: The event starts at 7.30pm and seats can be taken from 7.10pm. The discussion will be followed by a drinks reception for guests to mingle and chat with speakers.
Cost: Free


Please note all places for this event have now been taken. If you wish to join the waitlist please contact Places will be confirmed on 17 May.

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