Spring Seminars 2021

Over the last few weeks, we have been joined by scholars from King’s College London and further afield, for a fascinating series of talks, hosted online and open to all. We were joined for these online events by colleagues from as far afield as Canada, Malawi, and Vietnam.

First Dr Maria Giulia Marini gave a talk entitled ‘Innovating in narrative research for a health care ecosystem’.

Applying narratives to the field of research creates a number of opportunities: they can generate new hypotheses; they help to define person- and patient-centred guidelines; they can provide systemic scenarios of different disease groups and treatment adherence pertaining to their cultural contexts. In its basic premises, narrative medicine has established that individuals are different from each other and live, feel, think and act in dissimilar ways, especially when confronted with complex situations such as those related to health and well-being. Narrative medicine has therefore turned its attention to the wealth of information that comes from subjective experiences, complemented by validated scientific tools, such as health or quality of life assessment questionnaires and surveys. Before this revolutionary concept, comments and subjective experiences were considered of little or no value to scientific research and were often ignored. Today, advances in linguistics and computer science have made it possible to introduce a range of narrative analysis tools that produce much more in-depth knowledge than information data superficially collected with ‘one degree of freedom’ questionnaires, where the option is to answer YES, or NO, without understanding the meaning. The metrics used in evidence-based medicine do not take into account the voice of the patient and superficially address the reflection of the caregiver. Patients, their associations and healthcare professionals have opposed this reductionist view of medical science and a new era of research was born moving from a health care system to a health care ecosystem, built on sustainable interdependency.

Dr Edward Stevens spoke on ‘An introduction to the Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) approach: How can we act meaningfully within CBPR?’ 

As a participatory, action-oriented approach to research, Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) plays a social role in the distribution of knowledge in civil society and democracy, re/framing whose and what knowledge ‘counts’ and resulting in co-produced praxis knowledge that effects social change. Drawing on both his professional experience of managing a programme of CBPR projects (including health-related ones), and from his doctoral research that explored how ways of ‘being’ and ‘doing’ in CBPR transform the professional identities of academics, charity workers and volunteers in ways that enable, or constrain, social change, Dr Ed Stevens will:

Provide a brief overview of the origins of CBPR, of the approach’s key principles and its emphasis on the local relevance of public health problems;

Present a framework for capturing the social change possible from CBPR;

Explore how CBPR projects might best be understood as ‘pedagogical spaces’ (Burke et al, 2017) where pedagogical relations between those involved impact on the social change possible;

Critically examine effective ways of ‘doing’ in CBPR projects, contrasting experiences of successful health-related CBPR projects with those deemed less successful.

Finally, Professor Patrick ffrench delivered a paper entitled ‘Experiences in Groups: British and French “Social Psychiatry” in the mid-20th century and the question of the “leaderless group”‘.

This paper will propose a comparative approach to two inter-related tendencies in what might provisionally be called ‘social psychiatry’: the ‘therapeutic community’ movement which emerged in post-war Britain, and the ‘institutional psychotherapy’ movement which developed in France in the same period. Rather than focusing on the later and perhaps better-known anti-psychiatry phenomenon around RD Laing, David Cooper et al, or the post-1968 ferment around Félix Guattari and Jean Oury at La Borde in France, the paper will move back chronologically, to examine, in its first part, a comparative history of the two tendencies which, despite key similarities and a common reference to Freud, developed independently of each other, with different epistemological underpinnings and in strikingly different social and political conditions. The second part of the paper will focus in on one chapter of this story and one aspect of the concern, present in both tendencies, with the psychology of the group. This revolves around Jaques Lacan’s 1945 visit to the Hatfield Rehabilitation Centre in Hertfordshire and his subsequent report ‘British Psychiatry and the War’. It is through this visit and in this report that Lacan encounters and reflects upon the work of Wilfred Bion and John Rickman on ‘leaderless groups’. The final part of the paper will widen the frame to discuss the Lacan-Bion encounter in the context of work by Freud, Georges Bataille and Jean-Paul Sartre on group psychology.

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