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Centre for Women’s and Gender Research
Key area

Gender and Medical Humanities

Male performance artist
Gender and Medical Humanities is one of the key areas of research at the Center for Women's and Gender Research (SKOK).

The Medical Humanities is an interdisciplinary field of enquiry in which the methodologies and perspectives of the humanities, the social sciences and the arts are brought to bear upon medical education, ethics and practice. This interdisciplinary collaboration has a key role to play in analysing the role and ethics of medicine, and the relationship between medicine and broader ideas concerning health, illness, wellbeing and justice.

Since its inception in the 1970s, the Medical Humanities has focused largely on the humanistic side of the arts by providing insight into the human condition, suffering and personhood; our responsibility for each other; and a historical perspective on medical practice. Attention to literature and the arts in this context helps to develop and nurture skills of observation, analysis, empathy, and self-reflection, specifically in the arena of medical practice. In addition, the social sciences have been deployed to understand how bioscience and medicine take place within cultural and social contexts, and thereby how culture interacts with the individual and collective experience of illness, as well as with medical practice.

A more ambitious and recent aim, emerging from critical gender, disability, postcolonial and posthuman theories, as well as artistic work, is to challenge and refocus medical, especially biomedical, knowledge and education. Here, the Medical Humanities critically engages the very meaning of the human as technologies are integrated to the human form, as human parts are moved between bodies, as boundaries of the self shift, and as experiences and understandings of the body change according to developing knowledge of health and illness. The field brings critical arts-based methods to play in extending the knowledge of all those involved in healthcare, with the aim of a greater appreciation of the meaning and relevance of clinical practice. It further demands that we think with and through biomedicine as we rethink our understandings of the human condition and form, and as we grapple with care in the context of global movements and unequal access to health care facilities.

At SKOK, researchers are particularly interested in the areas of Medical Humanities that relate to gender and sexuality, biotechnologies, psychology, migration, and questions of justice and responsibility. More specifically, work is being undertaken on the relationship between organ transplantation and colonial histories; intersexuality and transgender in South Africa and the Ukraine; psychoanalysis in a therapeutic, philosophical and literary context; trauma; and health and migration in both Norway and France. With an expertise in Gender Studies, SKOK aims to bring together an interdisciplinary approach that focuses on the intersection of gender, body and health. Given SKOK already offers its expertise to many university departments and organisations on issues related to gender, its further goal is develop this interdisciplinary role, especially on a pedagogical level, to bring a much-needed gender approach to the Medical Humanities.

The Nordic Network Gender, Body, Health is currently hosted by the Centre for Women's and Gender Research (SKOK).