Biomedicine and the humanities: growing pains

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Medical Humanities, Volume 44, p.230–238 (2018)



<p>In this article, we discuss the challenges facing humanities researchers approaching studies in clinical and community health settings. This crossing of disciplines has arguably been less often explored in the countries we discuss&mdash;Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa&mdash;but our experiences also speak to broader trouble with disciplinary &lsquo;ethnocentrism&rsquo; that hampers the development of knowledge. After a brief contextualising overview of the structures within our universities that separate or link the humanities, medicine and social science, we use case studies of our experiences as an arts researcher, an anthropologist and a historian to draw attention to the methodological clashes that can hobble research between one disciplinary area and another, whether this manifests in the process of applying for ethical clearance or a professional wariness between healthcare practitioners and humanities scholars in health spaces. We argue overall for the great potential of humanities in the health &lsquo;space&rsquo;&mdash;as well as the need for improved dialogue between the disciplines to bring a diverse community of knowledge to bear on our understandings of experiences of health. And we suggest the need for a robust awareness of our own positions in relation to medicine, as humanities scholars, as well as a patient persistence on both sides of the humanities&ndash;health science equation to create a broader and ultimately more effective research system.</p>