Research themes

All of The Centre’s research themes share the overarching aim of enabling "healthy publics"

Healthy publics are groupings of people, technologies, ecologies and institutions that can change how we think about and enable health.

In seeking out and enabling healthy publics, all of our research themes ask “What does it take to facilitate and sustain transdisciplinary groupings that can re-define and improve health and well-being?”

The four Centre Themes below mark areas where transformation of understandings, practice, and evidence-based activities are required.

The strands overlap, but mark useful foci for research conversations, projects and recruitment strategies.

Key cross-cutting themes will bring researchers allied to the different themes together over shared research problems and questions. They include questions around: change, transitions and agency; temporality; trust; and what counts as “good evidence.”

Health and wellbeing are embedded within all manner of institutions. Most obviously they involve the institutions that are tasked with delivering health and social care – the homes, hospitals and welfare arrangements that make health possible. But more broadly, institutions can be understood as the ‘stuff of social life,’ and include language, historical norms, gender relations and so on.

Transforming health and wellbeing is not something that we can expect people to do as “atomized individuals.” They will need to operate in broader landscapes that seek to transform how we care for people in later life; how medicine and healthcare practices are organized; how evidence is generated; and how evidence-based policies are made involving healthy publics. 

Indicative topic areas include:

  • Transforming social and institutional care in later life
  • Transforming understandings of community and family and their roles in health and wellbeing
  • Transforming gender relations, and health, care and wellbeing
  • Histories and cultures of medicine
  • Research cultures – making research and evidence relevant for health and wellbeing
  • Understanding “big data” and communities
  • Approaches to national and international health governance

Any attempt to facilitate the emergence of healthy publics requires, first, the involvement of those individuals and/or communities with lived experience of, expertise in, or a history of exclusion from the issues at hand. Second, it necessitates that the issues addressed are collective problems (i.e. how care is organized, how pollution is monitored, how stress is understood). By actively engaging we anticipate that the resulting collectives will generate new insights and knowledge that can challenge existing norms concerning health and wellbeing. In order to pursue these forms of engaged research we will co-create a bold vision for pubic engagement and engaged research and develop forms of participatory research practice.

Indicative topics being considered include:

  • Understanding the dynamics of engaging diverse publics and conducting engaged research
  • Developing ways of engaging spatially dispersed health publics
  • Creating the conditions for transformative public engagement
  • Living with knowledge surfeits, data deluges and trust deficits in terms of enabling and constraining healthy publics
  • Transdisciplinary approaches to sustaining engaged research over time

Health and wellbeing are seldom achieved alone or in isolation. Being healthy often requires carers, friends, professionals, and many others; and well-being involves a range of social relations. Perhaps less obviously, this health collective is not just about people. From the food we eat to the social conditions and environments that “get under our skin,” health is made through and with all manner of others. Recent conceptual reinvestments in epigenetics through to Planetary Health and One Health remind us that healthy publics are heterogeneous, marked by a relational interplay of the molecular, the embodied, the social, cultural, environmental, and global. This wide cast of people as well as multiple objects of inquiry, frames of reference, relevant expertise, and forms of evidence pose challenges to the composition and sustainability of healthy publics.

Topics or foci for consideration include:

  • More than human health: ecosystem health and beyond
  • Biosocial and environmental interactions
  • Social and material relations and cultural engagement
  • Spatiality and topological approaches to health and well being
  • Opportunities and benefits, not just risks, to health and wellbeing
  • Technology and social relations
  • Interactions between global and local health

Health and well-being are subject to the cumulative effects of experiences, environments, and other social and material relations that accrue over a life time. So much so that being “healthy” is a relative state of affairs.

At the same time, the life course is frequently inscribed with particular events, rites of passage and other culturally inscribed milestones that affect how health is experienced and understood. Often termed crises or transitions, these culturally as well as biologically mediated moments require studies that are cultural as well biomedical. Transitions for example to old age may be as marked by social isolation as they are by the alterations to our bodies. Early years and mid-life are as affected by cultural expectations and norms as they are by hormonal shifts. 

Indicative topics for consideration include:

  • Temporality
  • Transitions and crises
  • Ageing
  • Gender
  • Identity
  • Social isolation and loneliness
  • Social and biological interactions across the life course.