‘Is there something wrong with me being White?’ a New Zealand politician recently retorted when her party was challenged about its all-White front bench. She went on to say, “We’re a party of merit and we’re a party of principle – I’m not going to be distracted about people’s gender or ethnicity.” In this blog post, Mary Breheny offers an answer to her question.
By Kathryn McGuigan, Kristi Urry, Andrea LaMarre, & Gareth Treharne, September 2020
In our first ISCHP blog post, we reflected on our contributions to the Illness Snapshots Symposium at the ISCHP conference 2019 and what this provoked for us in relation to how and why we do our research. At the end of the blog we raised several questions as to how, when, why, and to what extent researchers can or should reflect on their own and others’ work as people doing (critical) research. In this follow-up post, we continue this conversation with co-presenters from the Snapshots symposium: Andrea LaMarre and Gareth Treharne. Having reflected on their own experiences in response to the questions we raised in our first post, we include their (abridged) reflections in this piece, braiding these with our own ongoing reflexive considerations. Once again, we invite readers to join this conversation by engaging with colleagues and students, with us, and with the wider ISCHP community.
The global health emergency caused by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, known colloquially as COVID19, since late 2019 has resulted in calls for COVID19-related topics to be prioritised in research to inform the public health response to the pandemic. Acting on the urgent need for research (and to some extent, social responsibility), many leading cross-disciplinary journals have offered publication fee waivers for research papers covering a COVID19-related topic in any field, including but not limited to chemistry, biology, medicine, economics, and psychology. Further, in many (if not all) of these cases, the open-access fee additional to the cost of publication is also relinquished.
Last month I found myself in a weird situation. It had taken me some time to make the final corrections to a paper I had had accepted (by Feminism & Psychology). I had written it under what we now call ‘normal’ conditions, and here I was, ‘shielding’ myself while working within the Covid 19 + #BlackLivesMatter (BLM) situation. The world had changed profoundly, and I realised the paper needed to change too.
I was somewhat alarmed to find myself, as a 70-year-old, suddenly categorised as a member of a particularly vulnerable group. This is a group of people based only on the number of years that they have lived who have been singled out as needing to be extra careful and isolated earlier than others during the Covid-19 pandemic. Of course, this is for the protection of our health and signals society’s concern and protection of members of the population who are clearly more at risk.
As we age, we are more likely to suffer the underlying health issues which also make people more vulnerable to this virus. Unfortunately, using such a crude indicator of vulnerability as age alone has its downside. Categorising people in this way feeds into prejudice against older people and a deficit view of ageing that is already circulating in our society. Such ageist attitudes depict people in terms of their age alone and obscure the huge diversity that actually exists among older people.
African countries’ responses to the COVID19 pandemic are complicated by an array of economic and health challenges, introduced and entrenched by neo/colonialism and neoliberal economics. Yet, at the same time, the histories and present realities of these settings mean that African scholars have a different perspective on how to respond to the pandemic than those in more privileged settings. In this piece, I reflect on two important lessons that can be learned from African responses.
The COVID-19 pandemic was announced on 11 March 2020 by the World Health Organization, marking a turning point for the public health systems serving the health of constituent populations across the globe. This declaration moment is important for narrative on COVID-19 because it is the point at which it is accepted that the virus is not only travelling to different countries, but is now circulating in those countries. Governments are now required to take action to moderate the impact of the infection, reducing harm for the polity until the virus – through the mutation of its biological properties, human immunity, vaccines or some combination of these – takes its place, we hope, among the many other microbes with which human life has found co-existence.
The WHO declaration is also an important moment for the COVID-19 story because it reveals how data about notifications of diagnosed infection and deaths are used to make decisions and therefore reveals how, in the circumstances of a pandemic, it is keenly apparent that numerical and narrative futures constitute each other.
Over the last few weeks I have been caught, suspended, and at times paralysed, between the two stark realisations that: I am incredibly privileged to be able to continue the work of teaching and research online as we go into full lock down. After all, I will be paid my full salary, I have the right technological set-up at home and I can continue to undertake meaningful work that I am passionate about.
But that also: I am absolutely struggling to continue the work of teaching and research online. My already full pre-lockdown workload has not diminished. Indeed it has increased through ever-changing institutional mandates, crisis response meetings, learning of new digital tools and increasing my support for struggling students and colleagues.
On many grant applications, there is space
to describe “career interruptions” to help explain larger gaps on one’s CV.
This is a space usually reserved for parental leaves, medical leaves, or other
such generally government-documented reasons why an academic might have less to
show for a particular amount of time in their career. I wonder about this
space, and what else might occupy it. I wonder about the framing of life as
“interrupting” work, and the implications of the need to constantly prove that
we have been productive enough by way of ink on a page indicating that we’ve
researched and written and had our words accepted by a high-enough tiered
Kristi Urry (University of Adelaide) and Kathryn McGuigan (Massey University) reflect on contributing to the Illness Snapshots Symposium at ISCHP 2019
Ahead of the recent ISCHP conference in Bratislava, Kerry Chamberlain put out a call for contributions to a Snapshots symposium. His challenge, as usual, was for presenters to forgo the traditional 15-minute talk and, instead, present short, sharp and interesting arts-based presentations on issues of health and illness. We both took on this challenge, using it as an opportunity to reflect on and share important personal stories beyond the usual confines of presenting our research as polished, neatly defined scholars. The symposium went well, inspiring a lot of questions and discussion. Contributing to this symposium was also emotionally challenging and, afterwards, we both checked in with each other and reflected on how we felt after our presentations. We came to recognise this conversation, which we continued via email after the conference closed, as both a deeply caring act and a reflexive practice. We felt that it was a conversation worth sharing.
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.
“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.
Recently we observed Menstrual Hygiene Day, an annual awareness day on 28th May initiated in 2014 by the German-based NGO WASH United to shine a light on menstrual hygiene management (MHM). Specifically, this day seeks to publicise ‘period poverty’: the lack of access to adequate menstrual products faced by many in low income countries and, it is becoming increasingly apparent, by poorer women1 in rich countries. The movement’s vision is:
“…to create a world in which every woman and girl is empowered to manage her menstruation safely, hygienically, with confidence and without shame, where no woman or girl is limited by something as natural and normal as her period”.
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.
We’re looking for allies. We need allies… there are lots of people who’ve had enough and are thinking, feeling, and working in similar directions: it’s not a question of fashion but of a deeper “spirit of the age” informing converging projects in a wide range of fields (Deleuze 1995, 22).