NNMHR Congress 2023: Keynote Speakers


Chisomo Kalinga

On citizenship, boundaries and belonging: Designing Inclusive Medical and Health Humanities Spaces

April 19, 12-1:30PM BST

As the medical humanities field continues to expand and flourish within innovative spaces of health research, critical questions emerge about who belongs in that space, who gets to build and sustain it, and who gets to be a citizen. 

This keynote argues that the medical and health humanities as a field and discipline are at key crossroads necessitating a reflection on citizenship and belonging, particularly amongst those on the margins, and advocates a self-reflection on the realities of inclusion, exclusion, power and resistance within the field. This talk puts into perspective how method, praxis, analysis, pedagogy, cosmology, and epistemology must align with the most marginalized in our spaces and practice. As we ruminate the realities of where the medical humanities is actively positioned at the moment in the wake of ongoing calls for global social and reparative justice, we must examine where the critical health and medical humanities sits within this discourse. Does this inter-multi-transdisicplinary engagement with medicine, health, bodies, people, culture, and society reflect the real and imagined productions from the people existing within these spaces? Are we doing enough as academics, researchers, activists, healthcare workers or creative practitioners to understand these spaces we claim to research and serve? If not, how do we actively challenge ourselves to redirect the field towards genuine inclusivity and, more importantly, dismantle systems of dominance and discrimination at this critical juncture when calls for greater ethical practice, transparency and civic responsibility in our research practice are met with resistance.

About Chisomo: Dr Kalinga is a Chancellor’s Fellow at the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Edinburgh. Her research engages how modern and traditional literary practices (performance, form and aesthetics) are constructed by ordinary people in narratives of health and wellbeing. Her research interests are disease (specifically sexually transmitted infections), illness and wellbeing, biomedicine, and traditional healing. She is currently collaborating with her colleagues across Malawi and Southern Africa to support the Malawi Medical Humanities Network (MMHN) and the South-Africa based Medical and Health Humanities Network Africa.


Nils Fietje and Professor Sanjoy Bhattacharya

Global health policy and the critical medical humanities: pasts, presents and futures

April 20, 12-1:30PM BST

What is at stake when scholarship seeks to directly influence global health policy? Nils Fietje (WHO Regional Office for Europe) and Sanjoy Bhattacharya (Professor of Medical and Global Health Histories, University of Leeds) discuss organisational cultures and the intersections of history and theory with contemporary policy and practice.

Nils Fietje – Technical Officer, WHO Regional Office for Europe 

Sharpening the double-edged sword: the role of the medical humanities in global public health policy making

Over the past ten years, the ‘critical turn’ within medical humanities has done much to challenge and complement our understanding of medicine and the practices of health care. But to what extent have the medical humanities directly influenced health policy? Is there a seat at the policy making table for research from the field? Or is this even desirable? This talk will explore why the double-edged sword of actively contributing to global health governance might be worth wielding; and how one might go about sharpening the other edge.

About Nils: Nils Fietje is a Technical Officer within the Behavioural and Cultural Insights Unit at the WHO Regional Office for Europe. He has a background in English literature and the cultural history of medicine. As part of the BCI Unit, he is leading efforts to understand how cultural contexts affect and interact with health and well-being, across the life-course and throughout the continuum of care. Recently, this work has included a particular focus on arts and health, having published the first-ever WHO report on the evidence base for arts and health interventions.

Professor Sanjoy Bhattacharya – Professor of Medical and Global Health Histories, University of Leeds

Who needs to learn from WHO(m), and how?: Revisiting cultures of global health theory and practice

Global Health has different stages, involving very different actors, as well as political, social, economic and, not least, cultural frameworks. There has been a tendency in historical work to focus on offices based in Europe and North America, based on presumptions about the epistemic, economic and political primacy of the thoughts and actions within such contexts. This scholarship draws upon – and fortifies – exclusionary ideas of racial and cultural superiority that are widespread. They generally minimise the complexities of implementation and the important roles played by low and middle income country actors, who often choose not to communicate in English. So, when these voices are identified carefully and considered respectfully, what do they teach us? That culturally competent and adaptable implementation of grand ideas developed elsewhere is more important, than some exclusionary and racially superior notion of one group knowing better than others and the related wisdom of ‘nudging’ behavioural change? This talk proposes humility as a core need and strength in organisational culture, in norm making and implementation.

About Sanjoy: Sanjoy is the permanent Head of the School of History at the University of Leeds, and also the Professor of Medical and Global Health Histories. He continues to work on a decolonised history of the World Health Organisation since its inception, even as he continues to work with multiple WHO Departments and Divisions around the world, usually in partnership with regional and national governance.


Dr Ayesha Ahmad, Professor Jeremy Greene, Professor Patricia Kingori, Professor Nolwazi Mkhwanazi, Professor Stuart Murray, Dr Will Viney and Professor Jo Winning

‘Critical’: What next for medical humanities?

April 21, 12-1:30PM BST

A plenary roundtable chaired by Prof Angela Woods brings seven leading scholars together to reflect upon the past, present and future of medical humanities.

The 2023 Congress marks a decade since the ‘critical’ turn in medical humanities. This plenary roundtable reflects upon the significance and impact of this ‘critical’ turn, with an emphasis on the most important issues – thematic, methodological, structural – facing the field today. To set the scene for discussion each speaker will offer a short provocation about the past, present or future of medical humanities.

The provocations:

Will Viney: The critical value of projects in the medical humanities – projects are often created to solve problems, but what problems do they create?

Jeremy Greene: *Medical humanities* is a capacious term that is generally nonthreatening and can contain within it a diverse set of programs with entirely orthogonal social or political purposes, ranging from radical revisionings of the social order to reactionary and revanchist uses of nostalgia. In focusing our attention to a tighter beam, what are the *critical medical humanities* critical of, and who are they critical for?

Nolwazi Mkhwanazi: Medical humanities in Africa – critical, urgent or out of touch?

Ayesha Ahmad: Global Health Humanities is an act of creation. Such an act is symbolic when situating storytelling in contexts of suffering. In particular, I argue that creating stories in suffering is a mode of resistance and addresses silence in situations of silencing. To this end, storytelling is a saviour of suffering.

Stuart Murray: Both Medical Humanities and Disability Studies have experienced critical turns, but where these leave the relationship between the two remains unclear. I want to argue that both have under-acknowledged limitations as critical fields, but that the current working methods of each are well placed to critique the other, highlighting their shortcomings and speaking to some of the consequences that have come from their relative success as emerging academic disciplines.

Jo Winning: In early March 2023, the UK government announced its plans to make the UK a ‘Science and Technology Superpower’ by 2030 [https://www.gov.uk/government/news/plan-to-forge-a-better-britain-through-science-and-technology-unveiled] – critical medical humanities have a crucial role to play in any such plans, and must refuse the exclusion of the humanities.

Patricia Kingori: Fixations of endings in global health are a violence to which the medical humanities must pay greater attention.

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Posted on 14 Apr 2023, under News.