Urban Poverty & Health Inequalities

By Joseph Mwita Kisito, February 2020

Joseph Mwita Kisito reviews Urban Poverty and Health Inequalities: A related Approach (by Darrin Hodgetts and Ottilie Stolte) in this third review of the books from the Critical Approaches to Health  series. The series is co-edited by Kerry Chamberlain and Antonia Lyons, and published by Routledge, in association with the International Society for Critical Health Psychology. (ISCHP members receive a discount on the purchase price of books in the series.)

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Consuming health: postfeminism, critical psychology & media perspectives

By Silke Schwarz, December 2019

In this Book Review, Silke Swartz provides her perspective and insights on Postfeminism and health: Critical psychology and media perspectives by Sarah Riley, Adrienne Evans and Martine Robson. This is the second review of the books from the Critical Approaches to Health  series co-edited by Kerry Chamberlain and Antonia Lyons, and published by Routledge, in association with the International Society for Critical Health Psychology. (ISCHP members receive a discount on the purchase price of books in the series.)

The authors of Postfeminism and health apply a novel transdisciplinary and critical approach to women’s health, informed by feminist and postcolonial studies, media and cultural studies, politics, psychology, sociology, history as well as philosophy. They develop postfeminism as an analytic tool to examine health issues related to women. Postfeminism refers to ideas about women’s rights and feminism circulating in media, linked to understandings of what it means to be a woman in contemporary western societies. Postfeminist ideas act as a resource that women can draw on to make sense of themselves and for others to make sense of them. The authors take a poststructuralist standpoint to postfeminism, drawing on ideas from Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari. They place sex and gender into specific historical and sociocultural contexts and reject universal and essential assumptions.

In this text, the concept of postfeminism is linked with a critical perspective on neoliberal understandings of citizenship and healthism. Healthism refers to understandings that associate health with risks that individuals need to manage by lifestyle choices, at the same time blaming those individuals who are not able to attain the norm. Postfeminist healthism is described as

a way of thinking about women`s physical and mental health […]: a neoliberal imperative to be self-enterprising, risk managing and to treat oneself as a business; […] a construct of health as an individual responsibility that is manged through good consumer activity”.

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This includes an emphasis on individual transformation, on the language of choice and blame coming along with neoliberal consumerism, competition, choice and privatisation discourses, as well as on the tendency of psychologising in the form of pressure for self-management in the forms of self-love and self-care. This discourse normalises perfection and a flawless appearance.

The authors question prescriptions for women to work on themselves in order to feel good and to feel normal. These prescriptions also provide the message that women have a problem they need to work on. Using examples from the Anglophone world (the UK, the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand), they cover typical women’s health issues in seven chapters: self-help, weight, female genital cosmetic surgery, sex, pregnancy, intimate responsibilities, and pro-anorexia communities. At the end of each chapter the authors offer alternative, creative approaches challenging neoliberal, sexist and racist positions identified in dominant postfeminist discourses.

This book provides a valuable addition to mainstream approaches in health and gender studies, psychology, sociology and related disciplines.  Postfeminist healthism is identified as unhealthy for both those women who participate in it and those whom it excludes and considers how more positive directions may emerge. It identifies a dominant theme across different topics: health is related to risks women are responsible to manage. For example, the moral imperative of self-control in relation to a ‘normal’ weight is critically analysed. Assumed connections between weight and health are questioned and obesogenic contexts influencing weight are considered. The book is not restricted to criticizing dominant discourses, but puts forward an optimistic outlook and possible journeys for escaping postfeminist neoliberal accounts of what it means to be a woman. Practitioners, researchers, students and lecturers will gain alternative, liberating standpoints to women`s mental and physical health issues.

About the author

Silke Schwarz, scientific assistant at Traumanetz Berlin, S.I.G.N.A.L. e.V., has a PhD in psychology from Freie Universität, Berlin. She also works as psychotherapist and has published about domestic violence and psychotherapy and on gender and disaster.

Pro-social purpose & serving wider society: Research & practice to address climate change

By Kiran K Bains, November 2019

Greta Thunberg recently tweeted:

Climate change and social isolation and loneliness pose serious threats to human health, and particularly in the case of the former, to our survival and that of our planet. These issues are an ever-present and growing reality for those who already experience greater vulnerability and marginalisation due to age, poverty, racial inequality, sexuality, gender identity and disability [1, 2]. However, for those with greater privilege in the West, climate change in particular may generally be an abstract reality, with adverse consequences for lived experience only just beginning to be felt.

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Challenging the meaning of successful ageing

Sharon Johnson, October 2019

In this Book Review, Sharon Johnson provides her perspective and insights on Healthy Ageing: A Capability Approach to Inclusive Policy and Practice by Christine Stephens & Mary Breheny. This is the first review of the books from the Critical Approaches to Health  series co- edited by Kerry Chamberlain and Antonia Lyons, and published by Routledge, in association with the International Society for Critical Health Psychology. (ISCHP members receive a discount on the purchase price of books in the series.)

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Left alone in a storm of stress

By Natalia Braun, September 2019

“When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.”

Alexander Den Heijer

We are living in an age of stress. The very word ‘stress’ has become an everyday, unavoidable companion. In recent decades, our “stress (or allostatic) loads” have risen starkly. Today’s individuals increasingly suffer from what military has called VUCA: volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.1 We struggle with non-stop changes and transformations without regaining equilibrium, maintaining pathological stress levels.

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On becoming a feckless wastrel

By Wendy Stainton Rogers, June 2019

As a critical health psychologist, I have been haunted by the image of the feckless wastrel – my name for the character created by neoliberal forces to justify treating particular people as incompetent, unworthy and undeserving.

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Research-Informed Social Enterprises with South Sudanese Refugees in Uganda: A Partnership Project

By Helen Liebling, Hazel Barrett and Pascal Niyonkuru – May, 2019

Health Centre 4 in Bidi Bidi.

Helen Liebling, Hazel Barrett and Pascal Niyonkuru’s work demonstrates how the impact of qualitative research can be maximised to effect real changes in the lives of marginalised people. The researchers report on how they used their participatory research on the experiences of South Sudanese refugees to start social enterprises for the purposes of empowerment and capacity building. Their hope is that their intervention will serve as a model that other refugees could benefit from.

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Context is best: Breast versus bottle is NOT the debate

By Eva Neely, April 2019

Bottle vs breast – the ‘milk wars’ are missing the point

Sparked by the release of yet another parenting book, I recently found myself on the social media sidelines of yet another heated breast versus bottle dispute. At the heart of the breastfeeding/bottle-feeding debate lies the desire to determine the right way to infant feed. Yet, as we know, when it comes to childrearing there is no universal ‘right’ way. These ‘milk wars’ simply distract us from addressing what actually matters.

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Hungry in hospital: Parents go without meals as hospitals pinch pennies

by Rebekah Graham, February 2019

Addressing the social injustices that underpin health issues has become a priority of growing urgency for socially-responsive health psychologists. Alongside growing inequality across the globe, the issue of food insecurity has become more important. In Aotearoa (New Zealand), Rebekah Graham’s research on the everyday experiences of families facing food insecurity highlights food as an important social determinant of health. In this post, she considers an aspect of these families’ experiences that has been taken-for-granted in health: what happens when a child goes to hospital?

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Career file: Ally Gibson

Ally Gibson, is a long-time ISCHP member and co-host of the ISCHP pod-cast. Originally hailing from South Africa, Ally has just taken up a lectureship in the recently established School of Health at Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand).  Prior to this, she held a postdoctoral fellowship in the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at UNSW Sydney (Australia), where she also coordinated the Qualitative Research Network Hub.  We asked Ally about her career path, experiences, and thoughts about working as an academic.

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A sobering take on Foetal Alcohol Syndrome awareness campaigns

By Pieter Bredenkamp & Nicola Jearey-Graham

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“1 in 10 South African babies are born with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). What if unborn children could warn their mothers about the dangers of drinking while pregnant? Because not even one drink is worth a lifetime of suffering.” This is the premise of a recent social marketing campaign featured on the website of a leading South African brewer. The campaign includes a video intended to increase awareness of the effects of alcohol on the developing foetus and urges pregnant women to act responsibly. Continue reading

Career File: Magda Marczak

Dr Magda Marczak is a lecturer in clinical psychology at Coventry University in the UK. She teaches into the Clinical Psychology Doctorate Programme in the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, School of Psychological, Social and Behavioural Sciences. She is also one of the new co-editors of the ISCHP blog. Find out more about Magda’s academic journey in this Career File. 

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How did you embark on a career in academia? What was it that prompted this decision?  It was a very conscious decision. When I moved to the UK in 2004, I realised that my academic qualifications were not recognised. As such I could not officially practice as a Clinical Psychologist in the UK and needed to figure out what route to take. After a couple of years, I decided academia was the way forward. Working as an Assistant Psychologist afforded me enough ‘brain space’ to complete a PhD, although I must admit there were times I didn’t believe I would ever complete it and was ecstatic when it was done! Continue reading