Conference: Biopolitics and Psychosomatics: ‘Participating Bodies’, Cambridge

Friday 8th July 2016, University of Cambridge

Online registration is now open to book your place. The standard fee is £30 (includes lunch and teas/coffees). The fee for students/unwaged is £15. The deadline for registration is Friday 1 July 2016 at 12 noon.

Patient involvement, participation and empowerment are keywords at the forefront of the politics of contemporary healthcare and beyond. Envisaging a future where ‘networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health’ (Society for Participatory Medicine, 2014), discourses of participatory medicine advocate patient choice and the incorporation of evidence derived from patient experience. A problem with these discourses is that they tend to assume a transparent relationship between subjects and their experiences.  At the same time, they tend to address bodies as passive objects of knowledge or treatment decisions.  As the case of debates around ‘somatisation’ illustrates, however, organisms can force us to conceive them as active, sociophysiological agents that simultaneously affect and are affected by the practice of participation.

In this symposium we aim to unpack the multiple contemporary connotations of the term ‘psychosomatic’ and to render them available for discussion in relation to problems of agency, responsibility, motivation, choice and self-management.  This critical task is particularly urgent today, in the context of a resurgence of political rhetoric that opposes ‘shirkers’ and ‘strivers’ and that foregrounds individual responsibility, while questioning benefit entitlements and the authenticity of illnesses or disabilities. The symposium will provide an interdisciplinary forum to elaborate ways of conceptualising human organisms as responsive and purposeful social actors in their own right.  In addressing the agency of the organism under the rubric of ‘psychosomatics’, it builds from the central role that propositions from psychosomatic medicine historically played in the articulation of a sociology of health and illness, disease and medicine.  The event forms part of a programme of work that aims to critically develop and update this legacy.

The event will bring together speakers from different disciplinary locations, but who share a clear underlying concern for the ‘big picture’ questions about agency and embodiment the symposium will address:

  • What kind of bodies and body-mind relations are presupposed in discourses and practices of patient involvement and participation?
  • How do these discourses and practices refract wider biopolitical concerns about the kinds of flexible, responsible, contained, willing, durable body-minds necessary to the perpetuation of a neo-liberal order?
  • What conceptual and methodological resources can we draw on to propose an alternative understanding of organic agency and participation, or what we might call participation all the way down?

Full Programme information is now available.

Darin Weinberg (University of Cambridge)
Monica Greco (Goldsmiths, University of London)
Robbie Duschinsky (University of Cambridge)
Michael Schillmeier (University of Exeter)

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