A Year in Review 2023

Editor in Chief Chase Ledin takes a look at The Polyphony activities from 2023

As I take time to reflect upon the past year of commissions and collaborations at The Polyphony, I find myself in awe reviewing the incredible diversity, complexity and generosity of articles and reviews that our authors and editors have published on our platform since its emergence in 2018. The platform has seen exponential growth through contributions to our site, a small point that I think reveals the critical capacity of the platform to include a wide range of practitioners, scholars, activists, people with lived experiences, and community members. This also demonstrates increasing interest and positive engagement with our core aims to amplify, empower and disseminate contemporary medical humanities scholarship and practice for wider society. But more importantly, I believe that it supports the idea that The Polyphony helps to support the growing significance of making medical humanities knowledge public and meaningful for those who need it most.

When last year I introduced the emergence of new editor-led projects, including foundational work by Aly Fixter in the MedHums 101 project and Nicole Chen in The Polyphony Meets China project, I did not yet have in mind the incredible breadth and depth of new contributions from our newer editors, including Alex Henry, Eva Surawy-Stepney, and Jordan McCullough. Though I will reflect more about our projects below, these new projects illuminate cutting-edge themes, ideas, opinions, critiques, and insights which in their own ways demonstrate the power of the medical humanities. I am proud to share these project-related essays and reviews with you because these projects — as well as all of our general publications — showcase the need for more voices, insights and perspectives within our growing and intersectional field of research and practice.

In this year in review, I wish to share with you some of the incredible work we’ve published in 2023 and to celebrate the many interesting and new perspectives that have pushed the medical humanities in new directions.

New Staff

In January 2023, we welcomed three new editors to our core staff, including Alex Henry (reviews), Eva Surawy-Stepney (general), and Jordan McCullough (general). Alex, Eva and Jordan have excelled in their editorial roles, overseeing the emergence of fabulous new projects, including the Multilingual MedHums and Medical Posthumanities projects (more below), and an exciting new vision for publishing and expanding reviews styles, formats and engagements.

Many thanks to our new(ish) editors — and to our seasoned editors, including Aly, Anna, and Nicole — for their fantastic commissioning, planning, engagement and vision-making in 2023.

Projects & Initiatives

MedHums 101

Founded in 2022 by Aly Fixter, the Medical Humanities 101 project re-visits and unpacks core definitions, concepts and themes within the medical and health humanities. Two recent contributions include reflections on the Arts in Health movement and exploring the relationship between creative writing and lived experience.

Aly is seeking new contributions to the MedHums 101 project, so please contact them if you’re keen to explore and/or redefine medical humanities concepts and themes in 2024.

Multilingual MedHums

The Multilingual Medical Humanities project was started by Jordan McCullough and has published an amazing array of insights from different national and linguistics contexts, including France, Italy, Hungary, and Switzerland. In August 2023, Jordan commissioned and published a series of insights into translational challenges within medical humanities scholarship and practice. Especially intriguing from this series is a push to move conversations past English as a “language of science” towards translational thinking as praxis.

If you work, write and/or practice within multilingual medical humanities, please contact Jordan and contribute to this important and boundary-redefining project.

Medical Posthumanities

The Medical Posthumanities project is led by Eva Surawy-Stepney and seeks to decentre the centrality of the human within medicine and the humanities. The articles published within this project think critically about inter- and multi-species medicine, eco- and environmental perspectives of “more than human” affairs, and care technologies. Eva has published a wealth of fascinating posthuman insights, including a posthuman critique of person-centred care, the role of non-human animals in medical practice, the value of vulnerability in animal research, the intersections of lunar phases and arthritic pain, green social prescribing, simulation in nursing education, climate anxiety and social breakdown, and speculative ethics in healthcare.

Eva seeks new contributions for this generative project in 2024, so please reach out if your research or practice illuminates new and critical insights in this area.

Queering MedHums

The Queering Medical Humanities project is developed by Chase Ledin and encourages critical conversations within the medical humanities that move beyond identitarian framings, positionalities and politics. Though the role and value of critical and intersectional theories live at the core of the medical humanities, this project publishes insights from emerging voices and experiences about the challenges of living in/with identitarian medical and health sciences. This project includes a range of new perspectives, including reflections on reclaiming sex, sexuality and disability; neuroqueer methods and analytical positions; the intersection of queer, feminist and posthuman AMR politics; and screening consent and sexuality in popular television series.

In 2024, Chase seeks new perspectives about the entanglement(s) of identities, bodies, affects, technologies, and other materialities to queer the boundaries of the medical humanities.

The Polyphony Meets China

Launched in 2022, as a partnership between Southern Medical University in China and Durham’s Institute for Medical Humanities, the Polyphony Meets China project stimulates cross-cultural exchange and challenges stereotypes associated with dominant discourses lodged within Global North medical humanities scholarship. In 2023, the project has published multiple perspectives in Chinese and a few in English, including living well with autism, the poetics of illness and disability, sleep and embodied vulnerability, mental health and graphic medicine, and spiritualism and healing.

Nicole seeks new contributions in 2024, exploring the role of non-Western and Global South perspectives within the medical humanities, with particular interest in contributions from Southeast Asia and China.

Themes & Contributions

We had an incredible diversity of publications in 2023, with themes ranging from neuroqueer knowledges to mental health in Japanese graphic memoirs, from psychiatry and free clinics to postpartum depression and motherhood, and intellectual priorities (and limitations) within medical humanities research to re-thinking the role of (multiple) language(s) within research and practice.

Here are a few highlights from 2023:

  1. Kim Crowder explored neurodiversity and hightened sensitivity to smell in “Olfactory Overload: Knowing the Neurodivergent Nose“, thinking critically about compulsive repetition, liminality, and spaces of dis/comfort.
  2. Lorna Collins took a critical look at Alastair Morgan’s monograph Continental Philosophy of Psychiatry (Springer, 2022) and argues that the “lure of madness” remains a trap, silencing philosophy and creating an unhelpful tautology.
  3. Roshni Beeharry reflected on the role of creative writing in healthcare education and draws out the importance of the “flow state” in understanding lived experiences of health and illness.
  4. Steven Wilson set out a sweeping manifesto stating the importance of linguistic sensitivity in the making of a global movement to include multilingual scholarship in the medical humanities discipline.

Feedback for our Future

The Polyphony is currently seeking feedback. In order to inform our editorial practice and the ongoing development of our platform, we are keen to understand what it is like to read or write for The Polyphony and what can happen as a result. Our anonymous user survey takes 10 minutes to complete and everyone who responds has a chance to win a boxed set of the first three ‘provocations’ in the series Critical Interventions in the Medical and Health Humanities. We hope you’ll consider taking part – we’d love to hear what you think! 

Looking Ahead

I want to thank all of our wonderful staff editors, including Alex, Aly, Anna, Eva, Jordan, Nicole, and our senior management team including Victoria Patton, Evelyn Tehrani, and Angela Woods, for their incredible work this year. Your hard work and dedication has made this year truly remarkable.

Finally, I want to thank you dear reader for reading and/or contributing to The Polyphony, to incite, engage and explore compelling conversations across the medical humanities.

In 2024, we look forward to welcoming both new and returning authors to contribute to The Polyphony and for your continued patronage in reading and enagaging.

Happy winter holidays and warm wishes from The Polyphony team.

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