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Durham University

Institute for Medical Humanities


Embodied Symptoms

Listen to Jane Macnaughton talking about 'Embodied Symptoms'

How do we become aware of the feeling that something is ‘wrong’ with our body? How do we decide whether or not to seek help for this new experience? Seeking help changes this feeling into a symptom to be described and implies an underlying problem to be revealed and treated. This research theme will explore how symptoms come into being and how they are given meaning in the everyday world and in the clinic. Drawing on phenomenology, social science and cultural history Embodied Symptoms, led by Professor Jane Macnaughton, will explore topics including interoception, latency and menopause.

Thinking, Feeling, Imagining

How can literature, history, music and drama illuminate our understanding of human experience? How do thought, feeling, emotion, memory and imagination contribute to our sense of wellness or illness and our construction of the self and others? This strand, led by Professor Corinne Saunders, will explore how insights from the arts and humanities, through literary and cultural sources from classical to contemporary, might be used to enrich and complicate our concepts of normal and pathological experience, initially with a particular focus on trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Everyday Environments

The time, space and place we occupy can both positively and negatively affect our individual and collective experiences of health. How can we understand experience related to health that is situated within our ‘everyday environments’ - as both socially formed and socially differentiated within personal and collective, lived and imagined histories, materialities, politics and cultures? The strand, led by Professor Sarah Atkinson, will explore a situated human experience of health through living with complex conditions, discursive landscapes and oppressive concepts, and methods to explore embodiment and movement.

Science of Human Experience

How do we access the contents of consciousness including thoughts, emotions, sensations and perceptions? This strand, led by Professor Charles Fernyhough and Professor Felicity Callard, will improve methods for studying human inner experience and use them to advance models of mind and brain, particularly the ways in which social and environmental settings affect psychology and physiology. Areas of exploration include visual hallucinations, memory, mind-wandering, dreaming, imagining and spirituality.

Critical Concepts

This cross-cutting strand led by Dr Angela Woods and Creative Facilitator Mary Robson will explore concepts considered critical to the medical humanities such as care, personalisation, vulnerability, co-morbidity, the posthuman. It will also reflect on the processes and methods used to generate knowledge in this field, particularly in the context of interdisciplinary collaborations. As well as producing new thinking about human experience, we hope to influence scholars, practitioners and stakeholders through creative and ambitious training programmes.