Interview with Ylva Söderfeldt, Director of the Centre for Medical Humanities. Maria Björkman interviewed.
The Centre for Medical Humanities has been operative since the Fall semester 2020. What has been your focus during this time?
Our focus has been to develop our contacts with the involved disciplinary domains, faculties and departments at the university, to cultivate our role as a medical humanities node where researchers can find one another. Issues relating to medicine and health, the body and its conditions, as well as how we deal with and interpret them, are explored within several disciplines. Several researchers around the university work on similar issues without knowing about each other’s work. Hopefully, the CMHS can contribute to the initiation of interdisciplinary research collaborations, giving better conditions for taking on research questions that require more than one discipline.
Why are the medical humanities important?
My starting point is that medicine is not pure hard science. Rather, medicine – both as a science and practice – encompasses natural science, social science and humanities. It important that it is reflected in research and education. Further, medicine as a knowledge-culture and system has gained a very prominent position within our society and culture, making scrutiny of medical issues in the humanities and social sciences crucial. That way, we may be able to better understand one of the most dominant areas of knowledge in our society.
What are, according to you, the most important challenges that we face and where medical humanities can contribute to finding solutions?
I think that would be equality, in the local, national as well as global contexts. We have a situation where the medical sciences produce extremely advanced treatments in some areas, while some treatments that we have had access to for generations, are still not available to all. Further, we find that social injustices are to a large extent mirrored in injustices in health. This has become especially noticeable during the corona pandemic. To find solutions to the big health challenges in the world, we cannot limit our attention to only laboratories and clinics – we must include society as a whole.
I work as coordinator for the Centre for medical humanities since November 2021 and I enjoy the great variation of tasks and responsibilities that my work offers. I create meetings for and contribute to collaborations between researchers working in the fields of medicine, pharmacy, care, the humanities and social sciences by developing networks, arranging cross-disciplinary seminars in medical humanities and in contributing to the development of our research school. Part of our mission is to awaken interest and inspire dialogue on topics relating to medical humanities in the wider community which we, for example, aim to do in our pod Sanatoriet.
My field is philosophy. I defended my dissertation on self-deception in 2011 and much of my research borders on psychology. I have investigated how and on what grounds delimitations are made between the normal and the pathological, the rational and the irrational within certain theory formations in these disciplines and what implications such delimitations have on our understanding of the human soul, or the mental. Anxiety holds a central place in my studies of self-deception and becoming conscious. I am planning a project that studies anxiety in groups of people that find themselves in situations where the possibilities for influence and agency is low. Existentialism and 19th Century existentialist philosophy forms the theoretical framework for the investigation.
As coordinator at the Centre for medical humanities, I organize seminars, and help researchers within different faculties and disciplines connect and collaborate – all within the field of medical humanities. My doctoral research in human geography concerned the condition of undocumentedness in a Swedish context, using access to health care as the key empirical example. Since then, I have been active in the border lands between social science and health sciences. My research has concerned the understandings of mental health among people involved in integration initiatives, and trauma history among refugee groups.
I am a registered nurse and midwife, and also hold a master's degree in global health. In May 2018, I defended my interdisciplinary dissertation (medicine / gender) on pregnancy planning and fertility, with a focus on men's knowledge and thoughts about reproduction. During 2019-2020, I studied fertility knowledge and reproductive decision-making as a postdoctoral fellow at Malmö University. I collected my data through focus group discussions with people in ages spanning 17-90.
As a Beijer-postdoc at the Center for Medical Humanities and Social Sciences, I conduct a research project on experiences of regretting parenthood. In the project, I study how regret is expressed in online forums, and in interviews. I also interview professionals working in family counseling and child health care. on their meetings with parents who regret having children. The overall purpose of the project is to gain an increased understanding of what it means to regret parenthood in a Swedish context. I will analyze the material from an interdisciplinary perspective in which medical, psychological, historical, gender, and sociological perspectives are interwoven.
Luis de Miranda
Luis de Miranda, Beijer-postdoc from January 2021, is working on the late modern and contemporary rediscovery of philosophy as a way towards health. From the Romantic philosophical-medicine movement to today’s revival of philosophical counselors, our modernity is reenacting the Ancient ideal of a philosophically-minded practice that would beneficially impact our individual and social bodies. What is the genealogy of the current hope that philosophical health might be as important as physical health? A researcher that often articulates intellectual history and philosophy, Luis recently published a transnational genealogy of the concept of esprit de corps (Ensemblance, Edinburgh University Press, 2020) and a philosophical history of neon signs (Being & Neonness, MIT Press, 2019). He also worked and published in the field of philosophy of artificial intelligence. Trained in philosophy and the history of ideas (Master at the Sorbonne and PhD at Edinburgh University), Luis is a latecomer to academia, having worked as an independent author and publisher in Paris between 1997 and 2012. He is the author of a dozen books (essays and novels) translated into several languages, including Swedish (Vem Dödade Poeten?, Palaver Press, 2019; AI och Robotar, Tukan, 2019). Luis is also trained as a Lacanian psychoanalyst and is a practising member of the SSFP (Svenska Sällskapet för Filosofisk Praxis). Since 2018, he offers occasional counseling at The Philosophical Parlour in Stockholm in partnership with Livslinjen Terapi, an empirical setting in which for example he offered philosophical coaching to managers of the multinational Vattenfall. Asked about his hopes about the Center for Medical Humanities, Luis said: “It is exciting to be part of a team that is helping to actualise and give more visibility to a stream of research that has been for long an asset of the department of history of science and ideas. At a time where citizens are wondering what is and how to lead a healthy life in a healthy society, interdisciplinary research on the matter is acutely needed."
I am a Medical Anthropologist and, since April 2022, International Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Medical Humanities (CMH). My research project, “Mistrust in practice: an ethnography of suspicion in general medical practice in the aftermath of COVID-19”, was awarded in 2021 a three-years International Postdoc Grant from the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet). The project documents the dynamics of mistrust in situated healthcare interactions that unfold between patients and general practice doctors (GPs) in Italy in the aftermath of COVID-19. The study highlights mistrust as not just the absence or lack of trust, but as an interactional resource and a force in its own right. In so doing, the project will contribute to debates about the “crisis of trust” in the healthcare sector. This work will provide timely information and analysis that will help us understand the complexity of mistrust in times of health crises.
I defended my Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology in May 2021, and I was part of the Engaging Vulnerability research program (EV) headed by anthropologist Don Kulick. My work, “The Negotiation of Urgency: Economies of Attention in an Italian Emergency Room”, has been awarded the annual Westinska Prize (2021) for outstanding dissertation by the Royal Society of Humanists at Uppsala University.In my dissertation, I ethnographically explored the everyday life of an Italian Emergency Room as a place where urgency is at stake; caught up in and contested, by competing understandings concerning existential, social and economic precarity. The ER is described as a place of conflict and creative reinvention, where productive negotiations of more equitable ways to distribute care take place amid ER staff and suffering people struggling for social justice.
Since 2018, I am engaged in health workers’ training in “Structural Competency”, a recent innovation in medicine's understanding of and responses to social and health inequalities, to increase professionals’ awareness of structural determinants of health and care access.