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Does medical humanities matter? The challenge of COVID-19

Macnaughton, Jane

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Medical humanities has tended first and foremost to be associated with the ways in which the arts and humanities help us to understand health. However, this is not the only or necessarily the primary aim of our field. What the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed above all is what the field of critical medical humanities has insisted on: the deep entanglement of social, cultural, historical life with the biomedical. The pandemic has been a time for reinstating the power of expertise of a particular kind, focusing on epidemiology, scientific modelling of potential outcomes and vaccine development. All of this delivered by science at speed. It has been challenging for medical humanities researchers to find purchase in these debates with insights from our more contemplative, ’slow research’ approaches. However, as the height of the crisis passes, our field might now be coming into its own. The pandemic, as well as being productive of scientific expertise, also demonstrated clearly the meaning of culture: that it is not a static entity, but is produced and evolves through interaction and relationship. Taking a longer view, we can see the emergence of a certain ’COVID-19 culture’ characterised by entanglements between expert knowledge, social media, the economy, educational progress, risk to health services and people in their socio-economic, political ethnic and religious/ spiritual contexts. It is the role of medical humanities to pay attention to those interactions and to examine how they play out in the human experience and potential impact of the pandemic. However, to survive and grow in significance within the field of healthcare research, we need to engage not just to comment. There is a need for medical humanities scholars to assert our expertise in interdisciplinary research, fully engaged with experts by experience, and to work proactively with funders to demonstrate our value.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date May 10, 2023
Online Publication Date Jun 2, 2023
Publication Date 2023
Deposit Date Jun 2, 2023
Publicly Available Date Jun 5, 2023
Journal Medical humanities.
Print ISSN 1468-215X
Electronic ISSN 1473-4265
Publisher BMJ Publishing Group
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
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Copyright Statement
This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported (CC BY 4.0) license, which permits others to copy, redistribute, remix, transform and build upon this work for any purpose, provided the original work is properly cited, a link to the licence is given, and indication of whether changes were made. See:

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