Contemporary Womxn’s Writing and the Medical Humanities

Benjamin Dalton and Rebecca Rosenberg give an overview of the programme for the forthcoming conference ‘Contemporary Womxn’s Writing and the Medical Humanities’, 29-31 July 2021. 

Over the past two weeks, across this ‘Contemporary Womxn’s Writing and the Medical Humanities’ takeover of The Polyphony, we have sought to give a snapshot of the brilliant research going on in the medical humanities. You will be able to see more research presented through the recorded seminars but also through the upcoming online conference. This international, online 3-day conference is a continuation of the seminar series showcasing an even wider and more diverse range of illness and health experiences and voices.

There will be 72 15-minute papers and 4 keynote lectures across the three days. Find the full program here. There are panels dedicated to narratives of specific illnesses such as cancer and ALS as well as specific writers such as Anne Boyer and her now-seminal illness narrative The Undying: A Meditation on Modern Illness (2020). Narratives of transition and queer narratives will are a focus of the conference while Professor Susan Stryker, author of Transgender History: The Roots of Today’s Revolution (2017) and contributor to the recent landmark documentary Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen (2020), will be giving a keynote lecture on trans bodies, health and illness. Per the thematic trajectory of the seminar series, there will be panels and a keynote lecture by Associate Professor Amaleena Damlé on the beginning of life with themes of pregnancy, birth and labour explored. To follow, there will be panels and a keynote lecture by Dr Elliot Evans on narratives of HIV, death and terminal illnesses with the concurrent experiences of stigmatisation and marginalisation.

Popular and exciting themes emerging from the panel themes include bodies in the age of biotech and the impact of capitalism on exhausted bodies. Indeed, Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation (2019) is a text of interest for panellists and will be framed as an narrative of societal ills including the pressures of optimised work and bodies as well as the relentless rigour of normative femininity on (female) bodies. The conference will also be presenting new, important research on decolonising bodies in healthcare and illness narratives while it will also showcase work on the feminist potential of illness narratives to deconstruct gender. The activist potential of illness narratives, which was explored extensively in the seminar series, will return in the conference with further panels on disability narratives, unexplained and chronic illnesses. These panels will intersect with the keynote lecture by Professor Havi Carel whose work Phenomenology of Illness (2016) has impacted many working in the medical humanities.

The presence and participation of scholars from around the world and at different stages in the careers will enable fruitful dialogues, which will be instigated by the publishing workshop due to take place on Friday 30 July. With several publishers interested in the seminar series and conference, we hope to continue the momentum and dynamism shown this past year and immortalise the brilliant research going on in the field of medical humanities and illness narrative studies. Indeed, the conference will feature a workshop for people interested in contributing to these future publications. If you want to attend the conference, please register via the following link. The panels and keynote lectures will be recorded and will be available on the IMLR website. You can get in touch with us at womxnmedhumsconference2021@gmail and via twitter. We look forward to seeing you there!


Rebecca Rosenberg is a doctoral candidate in French studies at King’s College London. Her thesis examines autofictions of psychological suffering by Nelly Arcan, Chloé Delaume, Linda Lê and Chahdortt Djavann. Her research interests extend to autopathography, bibliotherapy and graphic medicine in bande dessinée having had a chapter published on these themes in the edited collected Narratives of the Therapeutic Encounter: Psychoanalysis, Talking Therapies and Creative Practice (2020). Rebecca tweets @rhrosenberg

Benjamin Dalton is a researcher in contemporary French thought and culture. He recently received his PhD in French from King’s College London. He currently teaches English language and literature at Paris Nanterre University and the New Sorbonne University in Paris, where he is also coordinator of a masters class in contemporary queer philosophy, literature and film. His research is now turning to the question of the clinic in contemporary French hospitals, and in particular is looking at how contemporary French philosophy can imagine new non-normative, queer modes of healthcare and healthcare spaces. Benjamin tweets @BenBGDalton

The conference ‘Contemporary Womxn’s Writing and the Medical Humanities’ will take place online from 29th to 31st July 2021. See here for further details of the program.

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