Organised by the Centre for Medical Humanities and Bioethics at Linköping University, the “Futures Ahead” conference was originally meant to take place in 2020 but was postponed due to the pandemic. During June 15–17 2022, researchers in the fields of the humanities, the social sciences and medicine could finally meet in Linköping to discuss the potential of collaboration, common goals and possible challenges in the field of medical humanities.
“It was a great success! Engaged participants, interesting presentations, lots of international participants with many networking opportunities, as well as smooth organisation” says coordinator Lisa Guntram at the Centre for Medical Humanities and Bioethics, Linköping University.
The research field of the medical humanities, understood broadly, encompasses the humanities and the interpretative social sciences of medicine. The field undertakes inquiries at the intersection of medicine, the humanities, and the social sciences. It sets out from the premises that sociocultural, ethical, and political aspects influence the development and use of medical technologies and the production of medical knowledge, and that such technologies and knowledge production also raise sociocultural, ethical and political questions. The field also examines experiences of illness, suffering, and bodily and functional variations, and acknowledges that such experiences can raise existential questions. It offers suitable tools to engage with questions of meaning, subjectivity, agency, ethics, and power.
The COVID-19 pandemic raises ethical, philosophical and sociocultural questions that were addressed during the conference. The World Health Organization has also identified multiple global health challenges, including outbreaks of communicable diseases and humanitarian crises caused by environmental pollution and climate change.
“The call for collaboration between medicine, the social sciences and the humanities has never been stronger. A central idea with this conference is to enable collaboration and encourage research questions that arise at the very intersection between the humanities, the social sciences, and medicine. Understood broadly,” says Kristin Zeiler, director of CMHB.
Jonathan Metzl started with his book "Dying of Whiteness: Racial Resentment, and the Politics of the Pandemic" during his keynote. Photo credit Magnus Johansson One of the keynote speakers at the conference was Professor Jonathan Metzl, from the Center for Medicine, Health, and Society at Vanderbilt University. Starting with his book Dying of Whiteness: Racial Resentment, and the Politics of the Pandemic, Metzl talked about the politics of racial resentment and its impact on public health. Drawing on systematic analysis of health data, Metzl showed how the policies of the Tea Party and Donald Trump have made life less healthy, harder, and shorter in the “white” populations who supported them.
“Ultimately, it demonstrates just how much white America would benefit by emphasizing cooperation, rather than by chasing false promises of supremacy,” says Metzl.
What can other countries learn from your research?
“The forces that divide people are very strong right now. My best tip would be to not just trust that common sense will prevail. Work preventively and with a good strategy to prevent the forces that play on people’s fears from winning in the end.”
The exhibition visualizes a research project in which surveys conducted among school children was investigated. Photo credit Magnus Johansson There was also an exhibition held at the conference about Norm Critical Design and Medical Humanities by, among others, Anna Isaksson and Emma Börjesson at Halmstad University. The exhibition visualises a research project in which surveys conducted among school children to evaluate their mental health were investigated. The research project, performed by Anette Wikström and Kristin Zeiler at Linköping University, investigated the effect the questions had on the young people answering them and what thoughts the survey evoked.
“The survey is questions on a piece of paper, but how does it affect those who answer? We have visualised the questions using medical instruments. Take the question "How do you perceive your body?", which the survey asks you to grade such as "just right", "too thin", "far too fat". Perhaps the student who is asked this question has not thought about this at all before. In this case, we have depicted the question with a medical measuring tape which has different colours – to illustrate the norm, so to speak” says Emma Börjesson.
Anna Isaksson and Emma Börjesson. Photo credit Magnus Johansson The conference had about 80 participants over the three days. And, according to the organisers, their vison came true.
“This conference is about strengthening the medical humanities nationally and internationally. It has proven the great potential and importance of the field, as well as the vibrant engagement in it.”
What was best?
“The engaged and friendly atmosphere, being able to meet in person, and the inspiring discussions on the medical humanities from various different angles.”