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Critical Concepts 

Led by Professor Angela Woods and Creative Facilitator Mary Robson

This cross-cutting strand reflects on the processes and methods used to generate knowledge in the critical medical humanities, bringing together insights from across our research strands.  

As well as producing new thinking about human experience, work in this strand is transforming understandings and approaches to interdisciplinary and cross sector research and collaboration through building new networks and creative and experimental training programmes.  


Core critical concepts include:

Creative Facilitation

Creative facilitation uses arts-based and experimental techniques to bring people from diverse backgrounds together to collaborate, form meaningful connections and experiment with different methodologies. Integral to the IMH, it underpins the production of many of our initiatives and outputs, including workshops and conferences, public engagement and stakeholder involvement events, publications, grant applications and new research projects.  

We run training in creative facilitation and reflective practice for academics and professional practitioners interested in using experimental and arts-based methods to transform approaches to interdisciplinary and cross-sector collaboration.  


 a person sitting on a bench


Our researchers are challenging and reframing the way that narrative is used to understand and depict experiences of health and illness:

  • Angela Woods, Akiko Hart and Helen Spandler have highlighted the limitations of the mental health recovery narrative as a genre and called for more attention to the spaces and formats through which different aspects of madness, uncertainty and ambivalence can be expressed and embraced.  
  • Veronica Heney is examining the function of power and epistemic justice within narrative interpretation, with a focus on self-harm and anxiety. Working in collaboration with people with lived experience, she has co-produced resources for writers and health professionals that explore the representation of self-harm in fiction, and how such depictions might come to be created and interpreted with greater nuance and care.  
  • Laura Mazzoli Smith is collaborating with health practitioners, voluntary and community organisations on the development of a Centre for Narrative Practices which will constitute an interdisciplinary hub to drive forward critically orientated research and engagement activities that focus on storytelling practices around health and illness experiences.  



We are developing new methodologies and approaches that will make medical humanities research more accessible to neurodivergent scholars and students. A forthcoming collection of essays edited by Louise Creechan (Bloomsbury, forthcoming) will combine an autoethnographic approach with literary analysis and critical theory to work towards the development of a neurodivergent framework for literary scholarship. Other initiatives include a neurodivergent humanities network (see below for details).


Visual medical humanities

Our researchers are leading the way in the field of visual medical humanities in the UK. Directed by Fiona Johnstone, Thinking through Things (2019–21) asked what might be gained by ‘doing’ medical humanities through objects and images and invited interdisciplinary dialogue around the holdings in the Wellcome Collection. Johnstone is now co-directing Confabulations: Art Practice, Art History, Critical Medical Humanities – a series of conversations and interactive events that make explicit the contribution that artists and art historians can make to debates and developments in the critical medical humanities. Her forthcoming monograph Aids and Representation (May 2023) explores portraits and self-portraits made in response to the AIDS epidemic in America in the 1980s and 90s. 


New networks 

The IMH is host to a variety of networks aimed at increasing interdisciplinary and cross-sector dialogue around critical health issues, including: 

The Black Health and the Humanities Network 

A Wellcome Trust funded network of scholars, writers, artists, healthcare professionals and activists whose work is broadly situated in the field of Black health. It was born of a critical call to address issues related to racism in healthcare, particularly in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement. Currently co-led by Arya Thampuran (Durham’s Institute for Medical Humanities) and Shelda-Jane Smith (University of Liverpool). 


Neurodivergent Humanities (NH) 

A safe and generative space that accommodates the diverse, individual needs of scholars working in the humanities, while offering a shared sense of community and support. Led by Louise Creechan, the NH advocates for more inclusive research practices across the humanities and will offer a mentorship programme for neurodivergent researchers.  


Religion, Health and Humanities Network 

A new network aiming to cultivate scholarship in the humanities and social sciences at the intersection of religion, spirituality and health. Founded by Adam Powell in early 2022.  


Explore research and activity in this strand: 

Betts, K and Creechan, L. et al. (2023) Neurodiversity, Networks, and Narratives: Exploring Intimacy and Expressive Feedom in the Time of Covid-19. Social Inclusion 11(1): 60–71.  

Johnstone, F. (2022). Art History’s Turn to Health. Art History 45(4): 905–12. 

Johnstone, F. (2021). Collaborations between artists and academics. Working Knowledge. 

Woods, A., Hart. A. and Spandler, H. (2019). The Recovery Narrative: Politics and Possibilities of a Genre. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, 46: 221–247. 

Creative Facilitation UnitFind out more about our creative facilitation training programme and read our creative facilitation report. 

Self-harm and Fiction: A Make-Space project led by Veronica Heney. Contains resources for writers and health professionals exploring the representation of self-harm in short stories, novels, TV and film.