Leeds Centre for Medical Humanities

An interdisciplinary collaboration between the Faculties of Arts and Medicine & Health at the University of Leeds

Cultural Narrative and the Everyday Clinical Encounter

The key goals of this research project are to achieve a more sophisticated understanding of the nature of everyday health and to change the nature of clinical practice in which everyday medical care takes place. Researchers across the Faculties of Arts and Medicine & Healthcare at Leeds are working on a variety of associated projects, focused on the place of cultural narrative in moments of clinical encounter, which will add a critical complexity and flexibility into the ways in which assessment, consultation and communication function in the daily engagements with healthcare. The work focuses on the value of, and insights provided by, narratives, stories and representations – and especially personal conceptions – across a number of select moments in which people access medical and health services on a regular basis, and it will counter the workings of medical systems that interpret good practice through the limitations of administrative, bureaucratic and goal-oriented pathways. The results of the research produced by using methods derived from arts and humanities methods will then translate into better practice and better services for health users, whether that be in the practice of health in day-to-day situations, the daily experience of health as a patient, or the ideas about health that circulate in our culture.

Coping with chronic illness and disability, and with the stressful environments that interact with health status, is a major concern for healthcare services and the people who use them. People arrive in healthcare settings with their own unique personal and social understandings of medicine formed by their everyday experiences of health and health services, including many ideas taken from representations of health in media and cultural narratives. Existing health research approaches (narrative, qualitative methods, social anthropology) attempt to inform us about these issues but this project will apply the historical, literary and cultural approaches of a critical arts methodology to research in medicine and to personal decision-making about healthcare provision. A better and/ or different understanding by health practitioners of patient constructs about illness and treatment has the potential to transform clinical practice, enabling changes to medical education, to patient engagement in assessment and treatment, and potentially to health outcomes. Work in the LCMH plans to explore the degree to which research practices developed in health research, including standardised qualitative and quantitative methods used in the analysis of interviews and texts, can illuminate work undertaken in medical humanities, thus developing new methodological approaches to both health and humanities research.

Overall, we seek to create a new understanding of the meaning of medicine as itis experienced on a day-to-day basis. Using a critical arts methodology, specifically its historical, literary, linguistic and cultural approaches, the project will work with three versions of the ‘everyday’:

  1. Everyday experiences of health (e.g. patient stories, life narratives, user understandings)
  2. The everyday practice of health (e.g. clinical methods, doctor/patient relations)
  3. Everyday ideas of health (e.g. representations in media and cultural narratives)

We will establish how the value of these approaches can be applied to decision-making about healthcare provision and research in medicine.

‘Cultural Narrative and the Everyday Clinical Encounter’ centres on the research questions that emerge from the moment of clinician/patient encounter, and the interactions that make up daily healthcare. It focuses on three major themes that are examples of this foundational moment:

  1. understanding the everyday manifestations of mental health;
  2. the experiences of the onset of hearing loss across the lifespan and in older age;
  3. the contemporary characterization of autism in current diagnosis and wider cultural narratives;

We are also interested in the historical contexts that have shaped our research questions, including key moments in the history of science and philosophy, as well as the methodological research that can explore the benefits of applying different research methods derived from the main participating academic disciplines to a diverse range of sources related to health. The project is designed to utilise the highest quality international research taking place in Leeds, and is in collaboration with a range of national and international academic partners, along with non-academic participants (institutions, community, and heritage) placed in a central relation to the research.




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