Exploring Physician Burnout
Jul02

Exploring Physician Burnout

Birkbeck CCL member and Director of the Birkbeck Centre for Medical Humanities, Prof. Jo Winning, has just published a new article in the BMJ Medical Humanities journal on "The use of an object: exploring physician burnout through object relations theory." The article (see below) examines the crisis of physician burnout, which has been widely and repeatedly reported across the mainstream press and medical journals around the world in the closing years of the second decade of the 21st century. Despite multiple systematic reviews and commentary on the scale of this ‘global epidemic’, understandings of both the phenomenon and the most effective interventions remain limited. Practice-based medical humanities represents the collaborative sharing of conceptual tools for understanding illness and clinical practice and the shouldering of responsibility for mapping the shape of care, in all its local, national and global contexts, thinking-with rather than critique on the profession and its practices. In keeping with this approach, this article offers a new perspective on the contemporary crisis of physician burnout by exploring the objectification of the clinician’s body within the systems and practice of healthcare. Within the context of medical humanities’ scholarship, discussions of objectification usually navigate towards a discussion about patient identity and its potentially reductive objectification within the frameworks of biomedical science. However, this article crosses the cultural divide between clinician and patient, and comes to focus on the objectification of the clinician herself, using object relations theory from the field of psychoanalysis to excavate the psychodynamics of care and their impact on clinicians, and the systems of healthcare in which care is delivered. Jo's article develops the feminist epistemological concept of 'thinking-with', alongside Donna Haraway's concept of tentacular thinking, which she has also written about in a recent article published in the journal Feminist Encounters (see here for info on this).                                                                                           Featured image by Rob Rogers, reproduced in Jo's article with permission and shared here under a CC BY-NC...

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Asylum Monologues
Jun22

Asylum Monologues

  by Dr Agnes Woolley, Lecturer in Transnational Literature and Migration Cultures   One of the Arts Weeks at the School of Arts this year coincided with Refugee Week (15th-21st June) and this performance from Ice and Fire’s Actors for Human Rights kicked off their virtual tour of the UK. With a pared down performance style based on the verbatim testimony of asylum seekers, Asylum Monologues is well-suited to on screen delivery and listening to the testimony of asylum seekers working their way through the UK system is a stark and timely reminder of the iniquities embedded in so many of our institutional and procedural structures. Much of my work has been concerned with issues of representation and voice in the context of refugee narratives. What forms and in what fora do we encounter refugee stories? What are the ethics of representation in this context? And how have refugees found ways to give voice to their experiences outside the legal infrastructure of the asylum adjudication process? The idea of voice and voicing experience has been – since the middle of last century – the preeminent way in which human rights are analysed and asserted. And I would say that testimony has become the prevailing narrative mode for refugee experience. But the testimonial forms we find in documentary, film and performances like Asylum Monologues are also intricately linked to the legal process to which asylum seekers are subject, where they must testify to a narrative of persecution. The United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, first ratified in 1951, continues to be the basis for asylum claims in most refugee-receiving countries (although the African Union has a different and more expansive definition for the continent that has a much larger proportion of the world’s refugee than Europe). The Convention defines a refugee as one who has a ‘well-founded fear of persecution’. Enacted at the level of the signatory nation state, the procedural characteristics of the asylum decision-making process thus demand a particular narrative of persecution for the conferment of refugee status and inclusion in the civic body. For this reason, perhaps more than any other aspect of human rights legislation, the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees depends almost entirely on the story of the claimant. But claimants have very little agency over this story in the legal realm because the process operates on a particularly restrictive set of narrative conditions. On the whole asylum seekers must answer questions, rather than be allowed to tell their story in their own way. Translators can often be a barrier to expression if, for example, they speak a different dialect or if the translator...

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Theses on Viral Time
Jun18

Theses on Viral Time

Featured image by Andy Holmes on Unsplash   The following has been collectively written by a number of academic contributors based at Birkbeck and beyond who, for the purposes of this experimental piece, are calling themselves "Le Comité de Salut Public."   I Viral time is a sudden telescoping of the non-human time of virus life with the lived, clock time of human beings. It leads to a sense of the floor falling out: of the inbreaking of the alien into the everyday and the disruption of human history by non-human time. Human history is characterised by a sense of repetition. We tend to imagine it as a horizontal line, divisible, calculable and stable. But its stability hinges on the idea of an impartial observer grounded at safe distance. Everything is then projected on to his sovereign eye as to the vanishing point of infinity, and in this manner the whole of timespace comes to be arranged for this one-eyed spectator as the universe was once thought to be arranged for God. As visuality and spectacle. This is why God and its kingly representatives on Earth could be easily replaced by a money-god fixated on slicing and dicing the body, dividing clock time and the expository value of humans. But alien time reveals human history to be only his-story. It says: “You haven’t heard mine yet!”. The alien is a time of an altogether different scale. The scale of disease becoming the anxiety of disrupted routines. And the latency of the interrupted projects of the past coexisting in the vortex of time, abstract and unfinished. Given its virulence, its spread and its inhumanity, an analysis of the virus can proceed along lines parallel to the critique of capitalism. Thus, the abstract time of the virus, the hegemony of ill-health, suggests that behind all value is not so much labour time, as health-time. The abstract time of the virus, as an inhuman time of universal illness, both reduces individual concrete time to a period of anticipation of ill-health or death, and elevates matters of life and death to the time scale in which they matter most once again: the entrance into the vegetable time of putrefaction and decay, or memory time- provided that there are still some around to remember us. These others need not be friendly. By bringing decay, putrefaction and memory they provide entry into other dimensions of relation and different orders of the visual. They’re a time-machine, in and of time and at the same time producers of time. Vegetable time and memory-time circulate through aliens, critters and enemies in the precise sense that memory has nothing to do with...

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An Introduction to Marx’s Critique
Jun17

An Introduction to Marx’s Critique

CCL member Dr Sean O'Brien is running a four-part lecture series for the 87 Press on the Marxian critique of political economy, exploring what it can tell us about the twenty-first century—an historical moment marked by deindustrialization, economic stagnation, growing labour superfluity, and a political landscape in which the figure of the worker no longer occupies the central space it once did. As Sean writes in the introduction to the lecture series, we’re quite far from the world in which Marx lived and wrote, a world defined by the development of large-scale industry, a growing industrial working class concentrated in factories, and the rising power of the workers’ movement. Since then, much has changed economically and politically, a fact made most visible perhaps in the collapse of actually existing socialism. But if the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama declared in the 1990s the ‘end of history’ and the triumph of Western liberal democracy—exemplified for Fukuyama in the end of the cold war and the globalization of the free market—recent decades have witnessed not only a series of devastating economic crises, but also a surge of popular interest in Marx and a renewed scholarly interest in the work of Marxist theory. And this return to Marx gives Humanities students and scholars a chance to read Marx’s work with fresh eyes. The series will open with an overview of Marx’s method and the some of the core categories of his critique before turning to consider theories of real abstraction, questions of geopolitical economy and the history of the capitalist class relation. We’ll explore the relationship between cycles of accumulation and cycles of struggle, concepts such as impersonal compulsion and form-determination, and the difference between what has been called traditional or orthodox Marxism and a more esoteric reading of Marx that, in the Anglo-American sphere, has come to be known as value-form theory. Below is the first lecture in the series:     The idea behind the series is basically to offer a public-facing, para-academic introduction to Marx for Humanities students and scholars working in one facet or another of contemporary studies who might be familiar with Marxist literary or aesthetic theory but haven’t yet had a chance to actually engage much with Marx himself and the critique of political economy in particular. And so, over the course of the lectures, we’ll tackle some pressing questions for people who work and study in the Humanities and who are interested in a Marxism for the twenty-first century. For instance, what does the end of growth mean for the future of work? How should we think about the relationship between production and circulation, or the regularity...

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America in Crisis
Jun08

America in Crisis

by Dr Anna Hartnell, Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Literature, Birkbeck, University of London The current uprisings in the United States are the most dramatic recent example of a war that America has been waging with itself since its inception. Most obviously this is about state-sanctioned racist violence and police brutality – a war against black lives. But America’s conflict over race has always been inextricably linked to the larger engine of capitalism on the one hand and the role of government on the other – a government that in its infancy could simultaneously claim to represent a unique experiment in freedom while embracing racialized slavery as a means to build a nation. Government is thus perceived both as a beacon of democracy and as a potentially violent and coercive body against which individual Americans might need to defend themselves. The spectacle of a quasi-fascist President Trump threatening mostly peaceful Black Lives Matter protestors with marshal law, while at the same time actively encouraging his often gun-wielding libertarian base to rebel against the quarantine measures instituted by state governments to contain the pandemic, brings these contradictions into focus. By way of introduction to this archived talk on America in Crisis, which took place in 2017 between my colleague Dr Grace Halden and me, I’m going to draw a few connections between our contemporary moment and the crises that Grace and I were discussing three years ago. In the shadow of the inauguration of Donald Trump as president earlier that year, Grace explored the partial meltdown of a nuclear reactor that occurred at Three Mile Island in 1979, and I looked at the fallout from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. We brought together discussions about nuclear power, state violence, the climate crisis, public health, and racialized poverty and inequality. What scholars in the field have described as the ‘Katrina crisis’ in particular bears many parallels with what’s going on now. Hurricane Katrina devastated the US Gulf Coast and particularly New Orleans, where the levees protecting the city broke, leading to catastrophic flooding. The submerged city starkly revealed New Orleans’s racial geography and dramatized the fact that if you were black and poor you were far more likely to be left stranded in the drowning city to suffer hunger, lack of basic sanitation, trauma and death. African American New Orleans residents disproportionately bore the brunt of the storm and thus the consequences of decades of neglect of the city’s flood protection systems and the crumbling social safety net. As conditions deteriorated in the city, the federal and state government launched a response that prioritized the protection of property over humanitarian concerns in a...

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Upstaging Ireland
Jun02

Upstaging Ireland

Birkbeck's Arts Week is an annual festival of workshops, lectures and activities around the School of Arts in Bloomsbury. In 2020, quarantine measures have meant that all events are taking place online, over several 'Arts Weeks'. As part of this provision, on 1st June, Birkbeck published the podcast Upstaging Ireland: The Theatre of Flann O'Brien. Flann O'Brien (also known as Brian O'Nolan and Myles na gCopaleen) was an Irish comic writer whose work has been considered at a series of previous Arts Week events. This year's contribution is on a lesser-known aspect of his work: his writing for the theatre. The plays Thirst (1942), Faustus Kelly (1943) and Rhapsody in Stephen's Green: The Insect Play (1943) represent an extraordinary burst of dramatic creativity, and were first produced at Dublin's Abbey Theatre and Gate Theatre. The podcast draws on the expertise of Tobias Harris, who has recently produced a doctoral thesis on Flann O'Brien, and Hugh Wilde provides four readings from the plays. It can be heard in full here.   Image from Burns Library, Boston College, used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 licence....

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