Surrey English Blog

The blog for English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Surrey

Disability, Arts and Health Conference

Dr. Donna McCormack (Lecturer in English Literature) speaks about the recent conference she co-organised as the coordinator of the Nordic Network for Gender, Body, Health. This event was funded by the Nordic Culture Fund and the Bergen University Fund, and was organised in collaboration with the Centre for Women’s and Gender Research at the University of Bergen, Norway.



(Margrit Shildrick’s Keynote Presentation, which focused on prosthetics and art work by Lisa Bufano)


As coordinator of the Nordic Network, I recently co-organised a conference on Disability, Arts and Health. Funded by both the Nordic Culture Fund and Bergen University Fund, this conference brought together artists, academics and practitioners across multiple disciplines. The first keynote speaker, Margrit Shildrick, explored how we might understand the body through Gilles Deleuzes’ concept of the assemblage, with a particular focus on prosthetics. The final keynote, Robert McRuer, examined how disability accessibility is exported from Westminster to Mexico City, while this same government implements the bedroom tax, which disproportionately affects people living with disabilities and those more vulnerable to the affects of so-called austerity-focused state intervention. Photographs and art productions were central to their talks, as each gave attention to the aesthetics of embodiment and its intersection with broader political contexts. The other keynote, given by Alexa Wright, focused on her artistic work, specifically her photographs co-created with people living with psychosis. A key part of the conference was an exhibition of the collages that people who were in the midst of a psychotic episode produced with Wright at workshops that she gave at a clinic in London. The collages captured a diverse imagination of how two or more worlds exist simultaneously, how haunting images are integral to this experience of illness, and an impression of what it may feel like to undergo what may be a little understood phenomenon.


This two-day event included multiple presentations on topics as diverse as personal experiences of ability and disability; visual representations and how to challenge normative understandings of embodiment; architectural norms; and creating accessible environments in the classroom and beyond. The artistic element was further developed not only by an exciting array of papers that explored representations of disability and morphological diversity, but also by an artistic installation by Marie Max Andersen, a dialogue about splastic dance between the artist Charlotte Grüm and the dancer Tora Balslev, and a performative piece by Jenni Juulia Wallinheimo-Heimonen which included a video installation and a dialogue that explored the possibility of a library for all the unused medical equipment given to people with disabilities. Wallinheimo-Heimonen insisted on the aesthetic appeal of prosthetics, thinking beauty with technology, as well as revealing the need for activism in all its imaginative forms.


For the Nordic Network for Gender, Body, Health, this conference launched the start of our new project on The Embodied Self, Health and Emerging Technologies, which is funded by NOS-HS (the Swedish Research Council). We will host three workshops on Disability and Prosthetics; Digital Health and e-Medicine; and Transplantation. Each one will be hosted in a Nordic country by a local university, with the first happening in Stockholm in May 2017.




Charlotte Grüm and Tora Balslev in dialogue about splastic dance.


Jenni Juulia Wallinheimo-Heimonen speaking here on vibrating prosthetics

Life as a Creative Writing PhD student – Writing is only the tip of the iceberg!

Whilst studying my Masters, a well-known screenwriter gave a talk where she described her main task as juggling all the different jobs she had as a result of turning professional; writing was relatively low on the list.  A few years later and coming to the end of my PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Surrey, I now understand exactly what she meant.

As a Postgraduate Research student my research takes up the greater part of my time, especially in the last few months where I have been writing up my final thesis for submission.  A Creative Writing PhD consists of both a critical thesis and an interconnected piece of writing, which in my case is a novel.  Practise-led projects like this are a lot of fun, but it does mean my word count just gets a lot longer.

Breaking up the research has been my teaching on a number of modules in Creative Writing, Film and Screenwriting.  It’s great running seminars and workshops, reading and watching all the creative work coming from the undergraduate programmes.  The timetabling also gives a semblance of structure to my week, which prevents me from neglecting my own studies.

Once both the above are out of the way, I can get down to the serious business of my own writing.  Initially, this is a dysfunctional relationship between the ideas floating around my head and my computer keyboard.  Words come and go and pages get written and deleted, until finally it all comes together and I’ll sit down and write a play in the space of a few weeks.  I find that when I get in the ‘zone’, I’m always working on the same project, regardless of what I’m doing or where I am, desperate to get back to my computer.  It’s almost as if I’m on auto-pilot for the everyday things and all of my conscious energy is re-directed to the creative part of my brain.

When the piece is finally done, the hard work starts.  The trouble with plays or screenplays, is that they’re really only the blueprints for a production.  So the next job in the life of a playwright is to make other people as passionate about your story and characters as you are.  This is where the networks and collaborations that are possible at the University of Surrey come into their own.

Over the past few years at Surrey, I’ve been mining the great resources of talent we have in both our students and staff, especially across the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.  Working with actors from the Guildford School of Acting (GSA), filmmakers from the Film and Video Production Technology and Digital Media Arts programmes, audio technicians and sound engineers from the Institute of Sound Recording (IoSR), and, of course, other writers from English and Creative Writing, I’ve put together collaborative projects in both radio and film.  As well as producing radio plays and films, what’s most important is the connections students can make across disciplines.



It’s one such connection that culminated in one of my radio plays, Toy Soldier, being adapted for the London stage.  I had worked with third year GSA students a few years ago on another radio-play about quantum physics, which we recorded in the IoSR.  Since graduating a few of the actors have gone on to set up their own theatre company, Who Said Theatre, and have put on four plays in the past eighteen months.  So quite naturally the conversation came up about collaborating on a production.  With the Chilcot Inquiry recently being released, it seemed like the perfect timing for a play about the fall out from the Iraq war to be staged.


As a writer, I think it’s important to get out and meet people, work on collaborative projects and maintain a network that you can call upon when the opportunities come up.

It might be a romantic vision – the coffee-stained desk and overflowing ashtray, half lit next to the antiquated typing machine of the playwright’s garret – but the reality is quite different.  Writing is only the tip of the iceberg.

Jonathan Crewe

University of Surrey PhD Creative Writing student


Toy Soldier, written and directed by Jonathon Crewe, produced by Who Said Theatre is being performed in London, 27 September – 8 October.     

Find out more about how you can Write your Future with Creative Writing programmes at the University of Surrey.


New kid on the block to leaders in the field: The School of English & Languages celebrates Number 1 National Student Survey results

I am absolutely delighted to see how well both English Literature and Spanish at the University of Surrey have performed in the 2016 National Student Survey.

Both English Literature and Spanish have been awarded 100% for overall satisfaction in the most recent survey of final year undergraduate students, achieving number one rankings in their respective subject tables.

These are quite remarkable achievements.

Diane Watt, Professor of English Literature.

Diane Watt, Professor of English Literature.

English Literature was launched as a degree programme at the University of Surrey in 2008. In eight years, it has moved from being the new kid on the block to becoming a leader in the field. Rising steadily up the league tables English Literature has gone from being an unknown quantity to the top twenty in a highly competitive field – not to mention our top 10 Creative Writing offering. Spanish, as a more established programme at Surrey continues to build on the longstanding reputation of Modern Languages, currently ranked 6th in the Guardian League Table.

So why are these our programmes so successful? There are a number of reasons. First of all, the School of English and Languages here at the University of Surrey is constantly striving to improve its curricula.

After the first cohort of English Literature and English and Creative Writing students at the University graduated five years ago, we took stock of the structure of the degree and of the modules we were offering. We listened to feedback from our students, and also from our external examiners, and we made a number of significant changes. Our Languages programmes, including Spanish, then went through a similar process.

Both of these degrees are quite distinct from their competitors. Our Language programmes focus on applied languages, and almost all of the modules are taught in the target language. Employability is central to these undergraduate degrees, and we are rightly proud of the Professional Training and Placement Year. It is compulsory for our Language students to work or to study abroad for a year, but all of the students on our English programmes also have the opportunity to study abroad or to find placements with a wide variety of our professional training partners in the UK or overseas. This year is fully integrated into the programmes; we visit the students while they are away and continue to support them academically and personally throughout their time in industry.

Most important, however, when it comes to student satisfaction, is the level of commitment of our academic and support staff. Our students know that we want to help them learn, and also that if they need to talk to us, we will be here for them, and if they have concerns we will act on them, and that really is vital. We provide a level of academic and pastoral support that gives our students the assurance that we really care about them, their learning and their personal development.

We have also worked hard to ensure that our students have appropriate resources available, and we are proud of our state-of-the-art Language labs, and of the library facilities, both of which have received significant investment in recent years.

In 2011, I came to the University of Surrey take on the role of Head of the newly founded School of English and Languages, which had been created out of two smaller departments: English and Languages & Translation Studies. The 2016 NSS results show just how far we’ve come in the last 5 years, with our programmes in both halves of the School thriving. We’ve learnt from each other and helped each other, and in the process, it is clear, we’ve helped our students not only to learn but also to have the best of all possible experiences.

Professor Diane Watt

Medical Humanities in its Global Context

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Dr. Donna McCormack (Lecturer in English Literature) speaks about organising an interdisciplinary workshop and doctoral course on the medical humanities and its global, postcolonial and gender contexts. This event was supported by seed funding from the University of Bergen, Norway, and was organised in collaboration universities across the UK, South Africa, Norway and Sweden. It was hosted by the Centre for Women’s and Gender Research at the University of Bergen.


I recently organised an event that focused on the postcolonial and gender aspects of the medical humanities and that had the specific aim of bringing together partners from the Global South and the Global North. The goal was to discuss the medical humanities in its global context, addressing issues such as justice in health, the role of historical and contemporary inequalities in health and illness, the dominant role of narrative in health care, and the role of the arts in care. The event was divided into two parts: a closed workshop, consisting only of invited speakers, with a very specific aim of sharing research interests and spending considerable time thinking through and planning future projects and events; the second part was a doctoral course where specialists in the field led sessions and engaged with the diverse research of doctoral participants.


This four-day event included partners from South Africa (University of Witswaterand and University of Cape Town), the UK (University of Surrey, University of Glasgow and University of Leeds), Norway (University of Bergen) and Sweden (University of Linköping). The doctoral participants came from a diverse range of institutions, including South Africa, the UK, Brazil, Norway, Sweden, Poland, Georgia, Iceland and Spain.


The topics all focused on embodiment, taking multiple disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives. There was a significant focus on organ transplants with the nephrologist June Fabian, from the University of Witswaterand, engaging us in the ethical decisions transplant teams must make, while reminding us of the class and race assumptions in decision making; Margrit Shildrick, professor of gender and knowledge production at Linköping University, took us into the philosophical arena of micro-chimerism asking if we are all already more than self and other and therefore challenging biomedical practitioners to rethink the machine model of organ transplantation; and I spoke on fictional representations of transplantation, addressing the consequences of not knowing the origin of the donated organ and exploring what it means to have no or little history in postcolonial contexts of transplantation. Multiple participants addressed the role of music in health care and as a methodology of study with Steve Reid, the head of general practice at the University of Cape Town, taking us through a personal history of rural health care in the north east of South Africa, grappling with the race politics of medicine and the centrality of music to resistance; and Jill Halstead, ethno-musicologist at Grieg Academy at the University of Bergen, asking how we may use our bodies to produce, communicate and understand knowledge and how feminism can remain at the fore of this pursuit. Indeed, many challenged us to think through our methodologies with attention to embodiment and the politics and ethics of queer and feminism, including Ingrid Young, a sociologist from the University of Glasgow, who addressed treatment as prevention and imperative to manage bodies, risk and responsibility.


Even as I try to capture what was discussed, it is impossible to account for the diversity of the themes and conversations, or for the emerging intersections of research interests and methodologies. Indeed this summary does not capture the plethora of doctoral presentations from across medicine, social sciences and the arts and humanities, which focused on an extremely wide range of methodologies and subjects. Some themes included: abortion in Ethiopia; psychoanalysis and the medical humanities; gendered representations of women in anatomical books; disability and trauma in postcolonial fiction; the importance of non-coherence in representations of mental health; the role of the doctor and patient relationship in general medicine; intersex in South Africa; addiction in Iceland; and more. All these doctoral projects were addressing how it is possible to work across medicine and the humanities, while still being firmly situated in one of these disciplines; and asking what is that is gained when engaging in such dialogues. Indeed, what many showed is that this conversation is essential in trying to grapple with the experience of health and illness in the contemporary context.


Often we are told that speaking across the disciplines is difficult and hard work, and that in particular talking across the humanities and medicine is practically impossible because of distinct methodologies, questions and immediate aims. However, not only could we speak to each other when our themes were similar (e.g. HIV or transplantation), but also we realised very early on that we were interested in similar questions, such as:

  • Does a body need to be objectified and distanced to be operated on and what would it mean to always see the body as human and intimate?
  • What is social justice in the context of medical care?
  • What does it mean to be a self and an other? And what if we are intimately tied to others, even on the cellular level?
  • Is narrative central to medicine? And how can literary innovation help understand the experience of health and illness?
  • How can medicine and the arts work together without the arts being subsumed into a tool of empathy?


Researchers across the humanities, arts, medicine and social sciences; medical practitioners; artists; and many whose work crosses the boundaries of the so-called researcher/artist/practitioner divide came together to explore the potential for a project that addresses the global, postcolonial and gender contexts of the medical humanities. The generosity of time and a willingness to listen and engage even when we could not always understand each other or our work helped make this an exciting event. What I witnessed was a group of people committed to and enacting interdisciplinarity through and across national boundaries, trying to think through justice across disciplinary differences, and looking towards the potentiality of how we might take forward the difficult but exciting intersections of the medical humanities and its global, gender and postcolonial contexts.


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New historical drama to be staged at Treadwell’s Books

Dr Allan Johnson (Lecturer in English Literature) writes about working with London playwright Jessica Burgess and director Tom Crowley on the development of a new play supported by the University of Surrey Impact and Engagement Fund. 

Awake and Asleep

Although many scholars continue to see the rise of esoteric societies such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn as a distinctive feature of the late-nineteenth century, my current research examines the wide-spread role played by magic and mysticism in some of the most significant developments of modernist writing. Modernism is often described as a period of newness and originality, objectives seemingly at odds with everything standing behind the Golden Dawn and its various offshoots, the Esoteric Section of the Theosophical Society, Rudolph Steiner’s Anthroposophical Society, and the ornate mystical views of Carl Jung and his followers. However, in addition to canonical modernists such as T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, D.H. Lawrence, Robert Graves, Ted Hughes, and W.B. Yeats whose connections to the esoteric and occult are widely known and yet infrequently discussed, there are a number of lesser-known writers of the period including Arthur Machen, Dion Fortune, Aleister Crowley, Algernon Blackwood, and Mary Butts whose literary engagements with magic and mysticism portray a fuller picture of the hopes and anxieties facing Britain between the wars.

As part of this research project, the University of Surrey has funded the development of a new one-act site-specific play to be staged at London’s iconic Treadwell’s Books this summer. Set in 1929 at a party in a Bloomsbury esoteric bookshop, Awake and Asleep explores how a group of interwar intellectuals, writers, and Bright Young Things are influenced by the occult.  Playwright Jessica Burgess is an up-and-coming voice in the London theatre world, and has written an intelligent and extremely witty exploration of the very human side of the esoteric world in the 1920s.  At the centre of her play is the fictional Arcadia Books, which offers respite from the speed and technological advancement of the world outside. ‘There’s a lot of wisdom in amongst these shelves’, the shop’s owner Gloria explains, and, indeed, Awake and Asleep explores not simply the historical influences of esoteric thought but, more broadly, the role of independent bookshops as gathering places for like-minded writers and intellectuals.

Playwright Jessica Burgess and director Tom Crowley holding auditions for Awake and Asleep at the Soho Theatre.Playwright Jessica Burgess and director Tom Crowley holding auditions for Awake and Asleep at the Soho Theatre.

The recent move in academia toward making academic research both accessible and interesting to wider audiences can only have positive outcomes. Collaborating with Treadwell’s Books, Jessica Burgess, and director Tom Crowley has been an exhilarating experience, which has not only inspired new lines of reasoning in my research but has led to the development of a new collaborative research and public engagement network called Magic, Language, and Society.  Two future events are already planned in connection with the Magic, Language, and Society network.

Tickets for Awake and Asleep are selling swiftly.  The opening night performance is fully booked, but a small number of tickets for Thursday 21 June and Friday 22 June are still available.

Surrey New Writers Festival 2016: Where Creative Minds Meet

The 2016 Surrey New Writers Festival (held May 14th, at GLive), was a success not only in terms of sold-out audience numbers, but more importantly because of the amazing atmosphere of creative discussion among the audience, authors, and performers.

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I designed the Festival to be a boutique event, with the specific intention of building opportunities for interaction among like-minded people; the panel discussions and performances showcased the ideas and work of some of the best artists and industry professionals working today, but the event also put a major emphasis on space for the audience – largely comprised of budding writers and creative professionals themselves – to meet and discuss ideas with the featured speakers.

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So, basically, the Festival not only showcases great readings and performances, but it’s an opportunity to do some valuable networking. Often, people get a bit awkward around the idea of ‘networking’, as if it’s something calculated, or opportunistic. During one of my recent MA Creative Writing classes, we focused on networking and how to do it; many students said they’d feel awkward going up to someone at a reading or social event with the express purpose of ‘networking’. But, networking isn’t an inherently unpleasant thing. Sure, if you scour the room and try to find the most ‘important’ person and try to force him or her to take the manuscript of your 500 page robot fantasy novel that you just happen to have in your bag, that’s going to be awkward and unproductive for everyone involved. (p.s. it’s entirely possible that your robot fantasy novel is brilliant, but that’s not the way to let people know about it!) Networking can be a really exciting and inspiring thing to do, and at the Festival, I try to set a tone where people feel comfortable chatting, asking questions, getting to meet not only the speakers, but each other. Also, I try to feature a range of authors and professionals who may work in areas some of the audience may not be previously familiar with, with the aim that people may find a new interest or passion, as well.

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Work in creative fields never has one set pattern of progression in terms of how a career unfolds. There’s no blueprint, no set series of steps to ‘advance’. That’s both the challenge and beauty of creating art. An event like the Festival allows people to engage in a multitude of discussions and form links that contribute to their creative communities. Artists and creative professionals draw on their communities throughout their careers, in ways that mostly can’t be predicted. At the New Writers Festival, there’s a focus on sharing and discussion that contributes to fostering these communities. If you attended the Festival this year – thank you for being a part of an inspiring day! We’ll announce dates for the 2017 Festival in the coming months.


Director of the Festival, Holly Luhning

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Coming Back from AWP 2016

LA Convention Centre post AWP 2016

Dr Angela Szczepaniak (Lecturer in Creative Writing) shares her account of a successful and eventful week at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference in Los Angeles. 

We are back in the sunny UK after a fantastic AWP Los Angeles (who needs all that Hollywood glam and Vitamin D anyway?)! All the lost hotel reservations and public transit mishaps were definitely worth the trouble for the amazing panels, writers, and publishers we got to see. There will likely not be a buddycop series featuring Holly and I (though there certainly should be!) because we were too busy letting ourselves get swallowed up in AWPness all week.

Conference highlights—where to begin?! The thought-provoking and inspiring keynote address from Claudia Rankine and the closing reading and conversation featuring Joyce Carol Oates, Peter Ho Davies, and Roxana Robinson, and so much other literary fun packed in between, have left us about to collapse into exhilarated but exhausted heaps.

The bookfair hall was jampacked and dizzying in all the best ways, as we chatted up a storm about Surrey’s Creative Writing programmes (we were cleaned right out of all our Surrey brochures and swag—Surrey pens in particular took LA by storm, so watch out for celebrities signing autographs with Surrey ink). And our luggage is now ten times heavier than it was when we left, stuffed with all the latest books from Veliz Books, Coach House Books, ECW Press, BookThug, House of Anansi Press, Opo Books & Objects, Siglio Press, and so many others. Can’t wait to sleep off the jetlag and recover from transatlantic travel with Malcolm Sutton’s new novel, Job Shadowing, and the stunning book object anthology, baum bim baum bim baum bim bim which features “fifteen non-precious objects from some of the most talented visual-verbal artists working today,” including Rachel Blau Duplessis, Kelly Connor, Maria Damon, Helen White, and many others.

Bookfair highlights: author signings with the likes of Jeff Sirkin (Travellers Aid Society, Veliz Books), and of course our own author signings at the Surrey table, with Jeanette Lynes and Catherine Graham—very special thanks to Jeanette and Catherine, who made our table hop at their author signings on April 1st. So exciting to have these wonderful writers with us, and to peruse their fantastic new books (Catherine’s Her Red Hair Rises With the Wings of Insects and Jeanette’s Bedlam Cowslip: The John Clare Poems).

We’re already gearing up for next year’s AWP—stay tuned for transmissions from Washington DC in one year’s time!

Angela (& Holly)

Surrey Writers in Los Angeles for the AWP Conference


Angela and I are excited to attend the AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) 2016 conference in Los Angeles this week! The conference starts Wednesday evening and runs through Saturday evening; this gathering is ‘an essential annual destination for writers, teachers, students, editors, and publishers’ (  Over 12,000 people will attend the four-day conference. Discussion panels, readings, lectures, and off-site literary events are scheduled from 9am until midnight each day. Angela and I will be at the University of Surrey table in the enormous Book Fair hall where over 800 exhibitors – literary presses, journals, creative writing programmes, writing conferences and centres, and literary arts foundations – will host stalls and tables for conference attendees to peruse journals and books, learn about writing programs, events, and retreats, and network with a diverse creative community.

Come meet us at table 305, in the first row of tables (not stalls) to the left of the main Book Fair entrance. We’ll have information about our MFA, MA, and PhD (low-residency option available) degrees in Creative Writing. If you’re a potential international student and interested in studying in England, we’re happy to talk about what it’s like to live in Surrey/London and to study in the UK (we’re both ex-pat Canadians, so we’re familiar with the rewards and challenges of living in a new country). We’re also hosting book signings at our table on Friday, April 1st; visit us from 1pm-2pm to meet award-winning poet Catherine Graham, and from 2pm-3pm to meet award-winning poet and novelist Jeanette Lynes.

I’m here in California already and Angela is flying in from London tomorrow; we’re looking forward to setting up at AWP. Angela will send in a blog update from the mid-conference fray, and we’ll jointly report back on all our adventures, after the weekend. Find us on Twitter throughout the week, too: @SurreySEL and @hollyluhning #AWP16

-Holly (& Angela)

p.s. re: the above photo – we may or may not be pitching a 1980s buddy-cop TV show while we’re out here…

Surrey New Writers Festival 2016

Dr Paul Vlitos (Lecturer in Creative Writing) writes about the upcoming Surrey New Writers Festival hosted by the School of English and Languages. 


Are you a budding writer? Do you want to find out more about the world of publishing? Tickets are selling fast for the 2016 Surrey New Writers Festival – organised and hosted by the University of Surrey’s Dr Holly Luhning – due to take place on Saturday 14 May at G Live in Guildford. Novelists, poets, screenwriters, literary agents and publishers will all be there – in conversation, answering audience questions, giving talks and performing! This will be a unique opportunity to rub shoulders with all manner of literary professionals, and to gain insight into the writing life and the publishing world.

Always an enjoyable and informative event, this year the Festival includes panels on digital publishing, paths to debut publication, and how to build a writing career – plus a panel of agents, editors and publishers discussing what they look for in a client or manuscript. Meanwhile, the University of Surrey’s poet in residence, Prudence Chamberlain, will be curating the poetry stage all afternoon, introducing readings and talks from some of the most exciting poetic voices in the UK – while the festival’s lunchtime lecture will be delivered by award-winning novelist Monica Ali, the University of Surrey’s Distinguished Writer in Residence 2016.

In the evening there will be a reception with drinks and canapes at 5 pm, followed by more readings, music, poetry performances and a chance to mingle with the creative professionals at the Saturday Evening Soirée!

Book early to avoid disappointment. Tickets are available from or by calling 01483 369350. Full line-up is available at . If you have any questions about the festival please contact Bonnie Ruddock in Marketing at the University of Surrey ( or Dr Holly Luhning, the director of the festival (

You can also follow the Surrey School of English and Languages on Twitter (@SurreySEL) and tweet about the event on #SurreyNewWriters.

Medical Imaginaries: Postcoloniality and Gender in the Medical Humanities

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A doctoral course organised by Dr. Donna McCormack at the Centre for Women’s and Gender Research (SKOK), University of Bergen (Norway), in collaboration with the University of Leeds (UK), the University of Cape Town (South Africa), the University of Johannesburg (South Africa) and the University of Linköping (Sweden).

On the 1st and 2nd June, Dr. Donna McCormack, from the School of English and Languages, will organise a doctoral course which brings together medicine and the humanities to explore issues concerning postcolonialism, gender and social justice. This course will be taught by international researchers and practitioners who specialise in the medical humanities. The emphasis will be on the intersections of disciplinary concerns, and will focus on areas such as transplantation and biotechnologies, indigeneity, patient and practitioner engagement, colonialism, HIV, and global inequalities. We are very grateful to the artist Fernando Vicente for allowing us to use his beautiful image that captures our focus on art, embodiment and technologies in a global context. Below is a detailed description of the course. All are welcome.

The doctoral course Medical Imaginaries: Postcoloniality and Gender in the Medical Humanities offers an interdisciplinary investigation of the centrality of gender, sexuality, race, colonial ideologies, social justice, global inequality and class to the medical humanities. The medical humanities has focused largely on how the humanities can contribute to the field of medicine. In this context, attention to literature and the arts has sought to develop and nurture skills of observation, analysis, empathy, and self-reflection, specifically in the arena of medical practice. However, this course seeks to expand the focus of the medical humanities by developing methodologies and analyses that take as their starting point the often-absent issue of unequal historical and contemporary global relations and their gendered dimensions. The goal of Medical Imaginaries: Postcoloniality and Gender in the Medical Humanities is to examine critically the intersecting dialogue between medicine and the humanities, with attention to the changing needs of health care in specific local and transnational contexts. In this context, we will analyse the role and ethics of medicine, as well as explore the relationship between health, illness, wellbeing and social justice.

The course aims to cover a range of topics that engage with historical and contemporary developments concerning the relationship between the humanities and medicine. This may include, but is not limited to:

  • the role of literary analysis in health research
  • biotechnological developments, philosophies and imaginaries
  • the relationship between colonialism and science
  • visual representations of medicine, illness and health
  • sexual and reproductive health in a globalised context
  • art in the clinic
  • postcolonial, queer, feminist, critical race methodologies in health research
  • environmental disasters as health issues
  • mental health, illness and selfhood
  • the relationship between the human, the technological and other matter
  • music therapy
  • care, dependency and interrelationality

The course aims to interrogate the very meanings of health, illness and care through an analysis of how technologies are increasingly integrated into the human form, how human parts move between bodies, how environmental disasters impact on health needs, and how we might conceptualise the changing experiences and understandings of the body. With a focus on postcolonial and gender-based methodologies, this course will engage with a wide range of disciplines that cross the humanities, social sciences and medicine, and include the participation of academics, practitioners, artists and independent researchers. Such an interdisciplinary and transnational approach has the goal of creating a space to discuss critically how biomedicine is transforming the human condition and form, and to allow for in-depth analyses of health, illness and care in the context of global migrations, gender inequalities, and inequitable distribution of global and local resources.

Some key questions that will guide the overall framework for the course include:

  • How do we conceptualise the relationship between the humanities and medicine when we consider the gendered and colonial dynamics of health, care, illness and wellbeing?
  • What is the relationship between art, the clinic and social justice?
  • How are bodies and technologies imagined across a range of sites (e.g. visual and literary culture, the media, or in medical school)?
  • How do we understand and conceptualise the body in a rapidly developing technological era?
  • What methods can we use to do interdisciplinary research?

Medical Imaginaries: Postcoloniality and Gender in the Medical Humanities will be of interest to anyone working in the broad field of the medical humanities, and to those who work on topics that relate to the intersection of the humanities and medicine. Importantly, participants should be interested in critically engaging with the medical humanities and in exploring these ideas through postcolonial and gender perspectives and methodologies. The course is open to advanced MA-students, researchers, PhD candidates and postdoctoral fellows, as well as to artists, practitioners and activists.


Confirmed Tutors include:

Dr. Donna McCormack (School of English and Languages, University of Surrey, UK/SKOK, University of Bergen, Norway)

Prof. Margrit Shildrick (Department of Gender Studies, University of Linköping, Sweden)

Dr. June Fabian (WISER, University of Johannesburg, South Africa)

Dr. Jill Halstead Hjørnevik (Grieg Academy, University of Bergen, Norway)

Prof. Steve Reid (Primary Health Care, University of Cape Town, South Africa)


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