Cultural crossings of care – an appeal to the medical humanities

Honorary guest and speaker: Holberg Prize Winner and Professor Julia Kristeva, Université Paris Diderot. Key note speakers:  Professor Marie Rose Moro, Université Paris Descartes, Professor Brian Hurwitz, King's College London and Professor Trish Greenhalgh, University of Oxford.

Roundtable discussion chaired by Brandy Schillace, Editor-in-chief of BMJ’s Medical Humanities Journal (London). Commentary to Julia Kristeva's lecture by Prof. Rosemarie Garland-Thomson (Emory University).

The conference will take place at Georg Sverdrups hus (University Library) at University of Oslo.

Programme - Cultural Crossings of Care

For more information on public seminars etc - check out the conference site.


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Call for abstracts

Abstract submission deadline has passed. Notification of acceptance: 15 June 2018.


Modern medicine is confronted with cultural crossings in various forms. In facing these challenges, it is not enough to simply increase our insight into the cultural dimensions of health and well-being. We must, more radically, question the conventional distinction between the ‘objectivity of science’ and the ‘subjectivity of culture’. This obligation creates an urgent call for the medical humanities but also for a fundamental rethinking of their grounding assumptions.

Julia Kristeva has problematised the biomedical concept of health through her reading of the anthropogony of Cura (Care), who according to the Roman myth created man out of a piece of clay. Cura's creative act resulted in a quarrel with Jupiter and Terra about the name and the possession of the creation that was ultimately settled by Saturn. Through Saturn's introduction of the name, man as a creation, as a state of being, was separated from the creativity, care and state of becoming represented by Cura.

Kristeva uses this myth as an allegory for the cultural distinction between health construed as a ‘definitive state’, which belongs to biological life, and healing as a durative ‘process with twists and turns in time’ that characterises human living . A consequence of this demarcation is that biomedicine is in constant need of ‘repairing’ and bridging the gap between biographical and biological life, bios and zoe, nature and culture. Even in radical versions, the medical humanities are mostly reduced to such an instrument of repairment, seeing them as what we refer to as a soft, ‘subjective’ and cultural supplement to a stable body of ‘objective’, biomedical and scientific knowledge.

The conference builds on a position paper published in the BMJ Medical Humanities.

We invite papers that engage with the medical humanities in general and in particular with the position outlined in the paper.

Topics of interest include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. A transcultural approach to medicine.  Such an approach should involve a radical concern with cultural dimensions of health as more than a subjective dimension outside the realm of medical science. We will explore the notions that all clinical encounters should be considered as cultural encounters in the sense that they  involve translation between health as a biomedical phenomenon and healing as lived experience. Cura’s crossings are not an exception but the norm.
  2. A deconstruction of the difference between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ science. The humanities have creative and healing agency; they are not only instruments of care but of cure. This materially performative aspect of the humanities part of the medical humanities  constellation needs closer attention and further theorisation.
  3. The medical cultures behind the production and construal of evidence.  As Kristeva has pointed out , the dominant evidence-based approach in modern medicine runs the risk of exalting biology into an ‘essential Being’ and a normative stasis  that turns the sick into persons who ‘lack [… ] certain biological aptitudes’. Based on this understanding of disease as a lack of full being (steresis), sickness and  difference are reduced to ‘categories of difference’: social and biological ‘deviants’ are seen as different in the same way. The biomedical discourse ‘blends all disabled people together without taking into consideration the specificity of  their sufferings and exclusions’. As an alternative to the epistemology of universal categories reducing difference to the same, the medical humanities should contribute to a ‘singularised’ approach to medicine. A singularized approach, however, is also different from merely considering the individual as a  bearer of social/cultural meanings by including ‘patients’ preferences’ in clinical  decisions.

By tackling such fundamental issues, the conference  aims to be the impetus for a  radical revisioning of the role of the medical humanities in medical research and practice.

The host of the conference is the new research project “Body in Translation – Historicising and Reinventing Medical Humanities and Knowledge Translation”  financed by the Centre for Advanced Study at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters (2019-2020).

About the speakers

Julia Kristeva

Julia Kristeva, Professor Emerita at the Université Paris Diderot, is one of the most prominent intellectuals of our time. Several of her concepts - such as intertextuality, the semiotic and the abject - have reformed modern humanities and social science research, and in 2004 she was awarded the first Holberg Prize for her research.

Marie Rose Moro

Marie Rose Moro is a professor of phsychiatry at the Université Paris Desctartes and the director of the Maison des adolescents (Maison de Solenn) at the Cochin Hospital. She is also the scientific director of the journal L'autre. Prof. Moro is one of the pioneers in French ethnopsychiatry.

Trish Greenhalgh

Trish Greenhalgh is Professor of Primary Care Health Sciences and Fellow of Green Templeton College at the University of Oxford. Her work seeks to celebrate and retain the traditional and the humanistic aspects of medicine and healthcare while also embracing the unparalleled opportunities of contemporary science and technology to improve health outcomes and relieve suffering. Trish is the author of over 300 peer-reviewed publications and 16 textbooks.

Brian Hurwitz

Brian Hurwitz trained and worked as a general practitioner in central London. Since 2002, he has been Professor of Medicine and the Arts at King’s College London where he directs the Centre for the Humanities and Health, a multidisciplinary unit offering research training at masters, PhD and postdoctoral levels 

Brandy Schillace

Brandy Schillace is an author, historian, and public intellectual and the Editor-in-chief of BMJ’s Medical Humanities Journal (London).

Rosemarie Garland-Thomson

Rosemarie Garland-Thomson is Professor of English and bioethics and founding co-director of the Disability Studies Initiative at Emory University. She works in the fields of cultural disability studies, bioethics, and health humanities to bring forward disability access, equity, and identity to communities and institutions across society

Conference rates

Registration for the conference will soon be open. Registrations cancelled less than 60 days before the event will not be eligible for a refund.

  • Standard Conference Rate (2 days, inclusive of refreshments and lunch): NOK 1000,-
  • Student Conference Rate (2 days, inclusive of refreshments and lunch): NOK 500,- 


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Published Sep. 17, 2018 12:15 PM - Last modified June 24, 2022 10:30 AM