Members of the CHH have spent time this week on an away day, during which time staff, post-docs and PhD students all presented on work they have been doing and future research plans. It was an opportunity to foster links between our respective disciplines and specialist areas, and the discussions that ensued threw up a number of interesting themes, methodological questions and lines of inquiry that could lead to possible collaborations across the research strands (some of which may be reported here as we develop these ideas).
Having had a little time to reflect on the potential for cross-talk between disciplines centred around our Medical Humanities theme of “The Boundaries of Illness”, I found a recent blog post here, written by Vaughan Bell of the popular Mind Hacks blog, immensely apposite. It provides an excellent summary of some of the conceptual problems facing the development of the DSM-V (often referred to in American circles as the “Bible of Psychiatry”) through the use of an analogy with the classification of genres in literature. Simply put, one of Bell’s arguments is to suggest that attempts to define mental disorders on the basis of biological substrates is akin to classifying literary texts by conducting statistical analyses on, say, sentence length or number of commas- such analysis simply “misses the point”. As a philosopher of psychiatry grappling with such problems as the definition of mental disorder, framing the issue in this way for the benefit of those not mired in the philosophy of concepts and nosology, seems intuitively attractive and plausible.
In seeking ways to help each other understand what our respective research is about, traversing disciplinary boundaries through such analogies and metaphors seems like an excellent way to lay some conceptual foundations for the kinds of intellectual collaborations the CHH could embody.