Small Grants in Humanities and Social Science: people we've funded

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Dr Ellen Adams

King's College London

The forgotten other: disability studies and the classical body

There has been little exploration of disability in classics and associated disciplines, whereas other areas of identity politics, such as gender, sexuality and race, have received far more attention. While there is a growing interest in people with disabilities in antiquity, there is little awareness or crossover with the ethical and political issues currently debated in the social sciences and medical humanities. These explore how people experience impairments, how societies respond to disabilities and even redefine what it is to be human.

This exploratory project will examine the insights that disability studies can bring to classics and our ideas of the classical body, using themes including: sensory impairment and embodied experience; the classical bodily ideal and modern normalcy; patient-doctor discourse in medical intervention; prostheses, body boundaries and identity; bioethics and the value of the impaired body; and engagement with art using a visual language such as British Sign Language or with a visual impairment through audio description or touch.

I will organise two workshops: one that brings together specialists in classics and disability studies under linking themes; and one that engages with museums' access programmes for people with hearing and visual impairments.

Dr Babak Ashrafi

Consortium for History of Science, Technology and Medicine, Philadelphia, USA

Research fellowships in history of medicine and medical humanities for scholars from Brazil, South Africa and India

With its broad network of member institutions across the USA and Canada, the Consortium for History of Science, Technology and Medicine is a hub for scholarly activity in the field, supporting research projects that make use of multiple collections. The combined archival collections of the consortium’s member institutions provide an extraordinary wealth of resources for scholarship in the field. Consortium member institutions have been collecting primary documents and historical artefacts in science, technology and medicine for more than 300 years. The scope of these collections now spans the entire world and stretches back to ancient history.

We will offer research fellowships to scholars from Brazil, South Africa and India to study the history of medicine and medical humanities using the rare books and manuscript collections of institutions that are members of the consortium. The fellowships will be offered for 2018-19 and 2019-20.

While the fellowship opportunities currently offered by the consortium have benefited mostly North Americans and a few Europeans, the proposed project would promote the development of international perspectives on the history of medicine and medical humanities.

Louise Austin

Institute of Medical Ethics

Postgraduate Bioethics Network

As bioethics is a relatively new, interdisciplinary academic field, there are often only a few bioethics students at each institution. In 2006, a group of postgraduate bioethics students founded the Postgraduate Bioethics Conference (PGBC) with the aim of bringing together bioethics postgraduates in a supportive environment where they could exchange ideas, develop skills by presenting their work and networking with other students and academics in the field of bioethics. The PGBC has been very successful and is now in its 11th year. However, as an annual event, it lacks a sustained network. The success of the annual event and feedback received from delegates suggests that ongoing events would be popular.

We will develop and sustain a network of postgraduate bioethics students by bringing them together to participate in a programme of activities. The goal will be to enable students to meet and exchange ideas, and develop their skills and knowledge in a supportive and collaborative environment. The planned activities will provide an ongoing programme of events allowing the network to be developed and sustained.

Professor Virginia Berridge

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

E-cigarettes: history, evidence and policy

The role and regulation of electronic cigarettes is a matter of public and policy debate. Regulation has varied in different countries, even though research about them is common to all countries. We want to find out what has led to this disjuncture between science and policy.

This project builds on existing discussion and preliminary examinations of the subject from three countries – the UK, the USA and Australia – which have taken a different national stance to e-cigarette regulation and harm reduction. Our hypothesis is that these divergences build on historical differences between the three countries relating to tobacco and health policy. We will outline research in the three countries according to a common format to examine the relationship between science and policy regarding e-cigarettes.

We will hold a workshop in the UK involving public health interests and policy makers involved with e-cigarettes to feed into the research. We will also hold a meeting of participants from a wider range of countries to discuss research outlines, and develop an initial publication and a plan for a funded programme of comparative historical policy research.

Dr John Chamberlain

Swansea University

Machine learning for automated regulatory algorithms: exploring the potential of artificial intelligence for the regulation of healthcare practitioners

Owing to developments in artificial intelligence (AI), it has been suggested that the next miracle drug will be a computer algorithm. However, the field of healthcare regulation is one key area of modern medicine which has yet to consider what the possible impact of AI could be. 

We will examine how AI could transform the current ways in which practitioners’ fitness to practise is monitored and disciplinary tribunal processes are managed. It will involve a series of scoping workshops with key representatives from healthcare regulators, practitioners, academics, public interest, computing and AI industry sectors. The goal is to finalise the content of a showcase conference to present ‘the state of the field’ in AI development in healthcare, and detail future visions concerning its possible impact in on healthcare regulation. 

The project will establish a strategic network of collaborative and research partners that will help to shape the ways in which AI might contribute to the future development of UK regulation. 

Dr Ranjana Das

University of Surrey

Health communication practices of South Asian migrant mothers with postnatal mental health difficulties: a pilot study

Up to 15-25% of mothers encounter postnatal mental health difficulties. Formal support for postnatal mental health is under pressure and health visiting services are struggling owing to public funding cuts. Migrant mothers experiencing mental health illnesses face additional practical barriers and cultural factors which prevent them from finding the right kind of support, demonstrated by inequality studies and mental health research.

We will conduct fieldwork with mothers, health visitors and midwives to investigate the communicative practices, expectations and needs of migrant mothers from South Asia coping with postnatal mental health difficulties. We will develop new understandings of migrant mothers’ needs and the kind of support being sought and provided – or not – by healthcare services.

We will develop a strong new research team for future collaborative work and  communicate our findings to a targeted audience using a final report and social media policy that will contribute to the provision of culturally sensitive and competent care.

Dr Robbie Duschinsky

University of Cambridge

Exploring disorganised attachment: unravelling developmental pathways and outcomes using data mining

Disorganised attachment is an important assessment of infant mental health. Disorganisation is thought to result from an infant having in some way experienced trauma in the context of the relationship with their caregiver such as observing severe domestic violence. Infants classified as disorganised have an elevated risk of psychological problems, most notably conduct disorders. The possibility of a finer-grained measure emerged from archival research on the original Berkeley dataset from which disorganised attachment was first identified.

We have been offered unprecedented access to a longitudinal dataset to explore how the finer-grained measure fares against the standard construct in predicting a range of negative outcomes, and whether particular forms of disorganisation have specific antecedents. Given that the goal is exploratory and the array of relevant measures is extensive, data mining will be used rather than hypothesis testing.

The research offers the prospect of a significant transformation of research in this area. Three focus groups with clinicians will be conducted to facilitate clinical input and translation.

Dr Nan Greenwood

Kingston University

Identifying research priorities about older carers and taking carers’ research to carers

Informal, unpaid carers perform a vital role in supporting others with illness and disability. About 7 million carers in the UK save the economy an estimated £132 billion each year in care costs. Older carers are a very important sub-group of carers: and their numbers are increasing more rapidly compared to younger carers, and they often spend more time caring. Despite this, there is little research that focuses on older carers and we do not know what their research priorities are.

We will run four workshops with older carers and local service providers to identify their priorities for research about older carers aged 70+. After outlining current research, we propose to have two parallel discussion groups – one with carers and the other with service providers. Once participants’ research priorities are identified, we will host a seminar with UK carer researchers to develop future proposals informed by our findings.

We aim to increase understanding of research priorities about older carers from the perspectives of older carers and those supporting them, and increase engagement with third sector organisations in future research. We will also collaborate with UK researchers and, ultimately, improve research and support for older carers.

Dr Nina Hallowell

University of Oxford

Facing ethics: identifying ethical issues in computational phenotyping research

Computational phenotyping research uses big data methods to refine the diagnosis of rare genetic diseases. Photographs and other biomedical data from people with genetic syndromes are used to train machine-learning algorithms to identify the phenotypic features associated with different disorders. The data is obtained from consortia of clinicians and researchers who research rare diseases, and directly from patients using online participation initiatives.

This research programme will identify ethical issues arising from the use of photographs in computational phenotyping research. We will undertake exploratory interviews with data-sharing consortium members and representatives of patient groups to determine their perceptions of ethical issues arising from sharing and using photographic data in phenotyping research. We will also undertake a scoping literature review concerning the use of photographs in biomedical research, and hold a meeting of consortium members to disseminate and discuss findings of the pilot work.

This study will lead to a collaborative proposal that will develop an ethical position on the sharing of photographic data, and explore research participants’ views of the use of their photographs and other data in phenotyping research.

Dr Karen Jones

University of Kent

‘The Lungs of the City’: health, sustainability and resilience in the globalised urban park (1800-2015)

By 2050, 70% of people will be city dwellers. Interrogating issues about urban recovery and resilience, 'The Lungs of the City' will demonstrate the extent to which nature can shape human wellbeing in an age of profound environmental change. Combining environmental history with medical humanities, this project will track the city park across a global landscape using guiding themes of sustainability and wellbeing. Based on the idea of cities as metabolic systems or ‘bodies’, it will investigate three cities – London, Delhi and Shanghai – to chart how green space has contributed to urban sustainability, environmental knowledge and community health since 1800.

As critical sites in our urban ecology, parks reveal how resilient cities have been built, maintained and can inform policy and development today. Emphasis will be placed on deconstructing the park as a medicalised landscape and in tracing the park 'ideal' from global north to south. We will ask how and why parks are good for us, how they have evolved over time and what lessons they can provide in an era of rapid environmental change.

We will develop new research using case studies and develop a fresh methodology on transnational urban history/health landscapes, and build a parks life network harnessing cross-disciplinary expertise.

Dr David Lawrence

Newcastle University

Regulating the Tyrell Corporation: company law and the emergence of novel beings

One forthcoming challenge for policy and regulation is the potential emergence of new types of being, both sapient and not, through advances in synthetic genome technologies and the development of artificial intelligences (AI). It seems likely that these technologies will be produced by public companies and multinational corporations. The main source of regulation for these bodies derives from company law and we have to decide whether the beings they produce should be accorded a legal personality. This decision will inform how heavily corporations should be involved in the development and application of these technologies.

This poses a question as to whether company law can, or should, be the primary means of regulating these novel beings and the potentially wide-ranging impact on society. This is not merely speculative; the European Parliament has already proposed legislation that includes electronic corporate personhood for AI systems.

We will establish a network to consider these future technological developments, and suggest practical legal definitions for the status of both conscious and unconscious novel beings. These can be used to develop and inform proposals for appropriate regulation to ensure the responsible development, operation and disposal of the technologies.

Dr Anindita Majumdar

Indian Institute of Technology Hyderabad

A preliminary study of ageing and assisted reproduction in India

We will inform research design and pilot fieldwork exploring the relationship between ageing and assisted reproduction. The preliminary enquiry will look at ways in which in-vitro fertilisation and other forms of assisted reproductive technology create avenues for ageing couples to have a child well past the biological age of reproduction.

I will review and identify major research interventions in conceptualising the relationship between ageing and reproduction including: the biological clock; menopause; post-menopause; and infertility. I will also establish a network of academics and researchers working in the area of assisted reproduction, infertility, demography, gender and ageing to help create a plan for future research. Along with pilot fieldwork, the grant will help support a specialised research network that will aid the publication of literature on assisted conception and ageing, establish fieldwork connections in India, and constitute an advisory board for future research.

The aim of this preliminary study is to develop questions and themes to formulate a future ethnographic project proposal regarding the link between ageing and assisted reproduction.

Professor Nikolas Rose

King's College London

Global social medicine

The proposed global network focuses on the neglected field of social medicine and the need to revitalise it as a key field of intersection of social sciences and medicine. The network would rethink its past, analyse its present and re-imagine its future.

As interest has grown in the interdisciplinary potential for medical humanities in recent years, we argue that it is time to bring together a range of groups in different countries who have been articulating a vision of social medicine in which social scientists of health, such as medical sociologists, medical anthropologists, medical geographers and historians of medicine, engage with doctors, medical educators and health policy makers on critical issues of practice and policy.

The primary aims are to organise an international conference bringing together representatives from these diverse groups, launch a global social medicine network, support doctoral student exchanges and visiting professorships between existing centres, and provide support for others wishing to develop such initiatives in their own institutions.

Professor Thembisa Waetjen

University of Johannesburg

Drug regimens in Southern Africa: pharmaceutical regulation and consumption in 20th century contexts

We will build a collaborative network of scholars working on 20th century histories of pharmacy and pharmaceuticals, medicinal substances, narcotics, and veterinary medicines in Southern Africa. We will draft and review research papers on pharmaceutical histories in Southern Africa which will constitute a special edition of a peer-reviewed journal. We want to draw the attention of historians to lesser known sources of data for writing pharmaceutical histories in this region and produce and disseminate new research that will expand the critical, contextual basis for studies of pharmaceuticals in the field of medical humanities.

We will establish a working group for the pharmaceutical humanities made up of interdisciplinary scholars from universities in South Africa. We will hold a workshop at the University of Johannesburg and introduce participants to two local archives relevant to pharmaceutical histories in this region.

Other grantholders