This audio podcast series aims to crystallise, communicate, and expand our understanding of how texts and health interact.
Health includes everything we tend to split into ‘physical’ and ‘mental’. Texts include everything built (at least partly) of words: novels, stories, memoirs, poems, blogs, magazine articles, narrative case studies, self-help books, private diary jottings, and even TV and drama and film…
To many of us it may seem obvious that what we read must be relevant to our health and wellbeing, but obvious is not the same as true. And ‘relevant’ is pretty vague, of course. The same goes for other kinds of text–health interactions, like therapeutic writing, the use of narrative in public health or medical encounters or interventions, and so on. Systematic evidence is still limited, but research is accelerating, and plenty of less formalised knowledge exists too – often in the form of intuitions and hunches. Testing out our intuitions is always good practice – just as good is letting other people test them. Both start with articulating our starting points clearly.
So this series features conversations with experts who have healthcare, charity, or policy roles; who work in the academic sciences or humanities; or who have relevant personal experience. I ask them about how they got to where they are now; what their current big questions (and answers) are; and what they want to know in the future.
If you’d like to be interviewed, or know someone I should invite to be, please get in touch using the contact form. If you prefer, you can also access the series via the University of Oxford central podcasts site, here.
I’m grateful to TORCH, The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, for supporting the series with follow-on funding from my Knowledge Exchange Fellowship ‘Eating Disorders and Real-Life Reading‘. You can read more about that project and my other research activity here.
Episode 1: Why public health needs narrative, with Lise Saffran
Lise introduces us to an often overlooked context for using narrative in healthcare: public health. She explains why it matters and how she came to realise that it does.
Episode 2: Combating fat stigma through narrative, with Rachel Fox and Kelly Park
Rachel and Kelly describe a series of narrative workshops helping make life better for fat people.
Episode 3: What does Disney do to mental health? with Jenifer Fisher and Nikki York
Nikki and Jen explain the dangers of Disney’s take on poverty, mental health, and relationships.
Episode 4: Computational literary studies and mental health, with James Carney
Amongst other things, James talks about his journey from Eng Lit via experimental psychology to computational linguistics, how entropy and abstraction relate to mental health, and why people (want to) believe in the transformative power of literature.
Episode 5: Bibliotherapy, academia, and portfolio careers, with Emily Troscianko (interviewed by James Carney)
I talk to James about how and why I started doing experiments on people reading literature, what my recent work on literary reading and eating disorders has found, and wider questions about academia, failure, and post-academic careers.
Episode 6: Cancer and wigs, with Seán Williams
Seán and I discuss the functions of the wig in mainstream cultural representations of cancer, as well as the practicalities of becoming interdisciplinary, and what it means to have or not have personal experience of the illness you’re researching.