Call for Papers: Cultural crossings of care; Oslo, 2018

– an appeal to the medical humanities

Honorary guest and speaker: Holberg Prize Winner and Professor Julia Kristeva, Université Paris Diderot. Key note speakers:  Professor Marie Rose Moro, Université Paris Descartes, and Professor Brian Hurwitz, King’s College London.


Call for abstracts

Submit abstract before 15 May 2018

We invite participants to submit abstracts of no more than 300 words related to the topics outlined below.

Notification of acceptance: 15 June 2018


Register here


Modern medicine is confronted with cultural crossings in various forms. In facing these challenges, it is not enough to simply increase our insight into the cultural dimensions of health and well-being. We must, more radically, question the conventional distinction between the ‘objectivity of science’ and the ‘subjectivity of culture’. This obligation creates an urgent call for the medical humanities but also for a fundamental rethinking of their grounding assumptions.

Julia Kristeva has problematised the biomedical concept of health through her reading of the anthropogony of Cura (Care), who according to the Roman myth created man out of a piece of clay. Cura’s creative act resulted in a quarrel with Jupiter and Terra about the name and the possession of the creation that was ultimately settled by Saturn. Through Saturn’s introduction of the name, man as a creation, as a state of being, was separated from the creativity, care and state of becoming represented by Cura.

Kristeva uses this myth as an allegory for the cultural distinction between health construed as a ‘definitive state’, which belongs to biological life, and healing as a durative ‘process with twists and turns in time’ that characterises human living . A consequence of this demarcation is that biomedicine is in constant need of ‘repairing’ and bridging the gap between biographical and biological life, bios and zoe, nature and culture. Even in radical versions, the medical humanities are mostly reduced to such an instrument of repairment, seeing them as what we refer to as a soft, ‘subjective’ and cultural supplement to a stable body of ‘objective’, biomedical and scientific knowledge.

The conference builds on a position paper published in the BMJ Medical Humanities.

We invite papers that engage with the medical humanities in general and in particular with the position outlined in the paper.

Topics of interest include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. A transcultural approach to medicine.  Such an approach should involve a radical concern with cultural dimensions of health as more than a subjective dimension outside the realm of medical science. We will explore the notions that all clinical encounters should be considered as cultural encounters in the sense that they  involve translation between health as a biomedical phenomenon and healing as lived experience. Cura’s crossings are not an exception but the norm.
  2. A deconstruction of the difference between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ science. The humanities have creative and healing agency; they are not only instruments of care but of cure. This materially performative aspect of the humanities part of the medical humanities  constellation needs closer attention and further theorisation.
  3. The medical cultures behind the production and construal of evidence.  As Kristeva has pointed out , the dominant evidence-based approach in modern medicine runs the risk of exalting biology into an ‘essential Being’ and a normative stasis  that turns the sick into persons who ‘lack [… ] certain biological aptitudes’. Based on this understanding of disease as a lack of full being (steresis), sickness and  difference are reduced to ‘categories of difference’: social and biological ‘deviants’ are seen as different in the same way. The biomedical discourse ‘blends all disabled people together without taking into consideration the specificity of  their sufferings and exclusions’. As an alternative to the epistemology of universal categories reducing difference to the same, the medical humanities should contribute to a ‘singularised’ approach to medicine. A singularized approach, however, is also different from merely considering the individual as a  bearer of social/cultural meanings by including ‘patients’ preferences’ in clinical  decisions.

By tackling such fundamental issues, the conference  aims to be the impetus for a  radical revisioning of the role of the medical humanities in medical research and practice.

The host of the conference is the new research project “Body in Translation – Historicising and Reinventing Medical Humanities and Knowledge Translation”  financed by the Centre for Advanced Study at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters (2019-2020).

About Julia Kristeva

Julia Kristeva, Professor Emerita at the Université Paris Diderot, is one of the most prominent intellectuals of our time. Several of her concepts – such as intertextuality, the semiotic and the abject – have reformed modern humanities and social science research, and in 2004 she was awarded the first Holberg Prize for her research.

About Marie Rose Moro

Marie Rose Moro is a professor of phsychiatry at the Université Paris Desctartes and the director of the Maison des adolescents (Maison de Solenn) at the Cochin Hospital. She is also the scientific director of the journal L’autre. Prof. Moro is one of the pioneers in French ethnopsychiatry.

About Brian Hurwitz

Brian Hurwitz trained and worked as a general practitioner in central London. Since 2002, he has been Professor of Medicine and the Arts at King’s College London where he directs the Centre for the Humanities and Health, a multidisciplinary unit offering research training at masters, PhD and postdoctoral levels

Conference rates

Registration for the conference will soon be open. Registrations cancelled less than 60 days before the event will not be eligible for a refund.

  • Standard Conference Rate (2 days, inclusive of refreshments and lunch): NOK 1000,-
  • Student Conference Rate (2 days, inclusive of refreshments and lunch): NOK 500,-


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