Building on last year's ground-breaking conference, Body Knowledge: Medicine and the Humanities in Conversation, hosted by the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, the University of Cape Town is organising a second conference, titled Medical Humanities in Africa.
From disciplines and practices as diverse as cellular biology, fine art, anthropology, public health, performance art, theatre, poetry, music, oncology, comedy, and family medicine, the conference, to be held at Monkey Valley from the 28-30 August, is aimed at bridging the divides that have historically separated medicine and the arts.
In 2013, the National Research Foundation in South Africa recognised the medical humanities as a new knowledge field. But what is this new knowledge field? And what might it offer? Quite simply, the medical humanities is an attempt to overcome the binaries that have separated the worlds of the medical and the scientific from the personal and the humanistic. Patrick Randolph-Quinney, based in the school of anatomical sciences at Wits University, argued, "I am sure Da Vinci would not have approved of this artificial (and unproductive) dichotomy; for him painting was a science, and to see was to know."
With emerging programmes and course offerings in global health and the medical humanities at the Universities of Cape Town, the Western Cape, Witswatersrand and Stellenbosch, South Africa is in an excellent position to facilitate medical humanities conversations that are emerging across the African continent. The pressing issues to be addressed include the nature of hospice care, access to primary health care, rural health, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, as well as the rise of non-infectious diseases, including cancer and diabetes.
Using a format based on four "streams", the conference is designed to facilitate in-depth engagement around core themes in the medical humanities, as well as to form potential research clusters. Each stream is comprised of participants who will meet together as a group for the duration of the two days. The conference concludes with an opportunity for in-depth dialogue and reflection across the streams.
Stream 1: Paradigms
What are the medical humanities? What have they been, and where, and why? What are the medical humanities in Africa, and are they different from elsewhere? What could they be one day? What should they do? What kind of a paradigm does the medical humanities offer for knowing about and acting in and moving through the world, for navigating suffering and joy, health and debilitation, in body, mind and spirit? This stream invites provocations and discussion on how to understand how the medical humanities have been framed, what they are and might one day become.
Stream 2: Pedagogy
Building the medical humanities in Africa will require revising the way health sciences and the humanities are introduced to undergraduate and postgraduate students. We are calling in this stream for provocations that foster imaginative pedagogies for teaching at the crossroads of medicine, the arts, and the social sciences, particularly in the African context. We invite anyone invested in rethinking the institutional structures that often prevent interdisciplinary teaching and research.
Stream 3: Practice
What difference do the humanities make to healthcare practice in our context? Disciplines such as ethics, history, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, literature and art each bring a different perspective to health and healthcare. How does an inter-disciplinary or trans-disciplinary understanding of health and medicine affect the practice of healthcare in Africa? Of what direct relevance are the humanities to health professionals? How do we translate empirical and analytical results into actual changes in the way that healthcare is offered?
Stream 4: Potential: The first 1000 days
"The First 1000 Days" is emerging as a field of knowledge and practice. As scientific knowledge (here, the ways that maternal environment has epigenetic, partly heritable consequences) is taken up in policy and practice, we are witnessing the making of a social object with material effects. The field both synergises a range of disciplines '“ (epi)genetics, obstetrics, gynaecology, public health, psychology, social development, poverty studies, anthropology, art, among others '“ and develops new sites of humanitarian intervention, reframing current debates about "the best interests of the child" in newly biological ways. What are the creative possibilities of the first 1000 days?
For details, visit www.medhumanities2014.co.za.
Text by Susan Levine. Image supplied
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