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Webinar #2: Conversations on Covid19: food systems & dietary inequalities

Conversations on COVID-19

Conversations on COVID-19 provides a unique forum for cross-disciplinary conversations that assess the geographical consequences of this global public health crisis. A series of online events will draw on a range of expertise, core issues, theoretical perspectives and methodological approaches that geographical scholarship can offer to better understand the geographies of COVID-19. The platform will be used to discuss ideas, practice, work in progress and plans for future research. This is important not only to document geographical research practice at this time but to contribute to wider academic, political and public policy debates and for mapping future research agendas.

Series organisers Dr Ailie Tam (University of East Anglia) and Dr Louise Boyle (University of Glasgow)

Details of the second webinar in this series:

Day/time: Wed 28th April 2021, 1pm-2pm

Topic: COVID-19 and the impact on the urban food retail system and dietary inequalities in the UK

Guest speaker: Professor Steven Cummins (LSHTM)

Abstract:

COVID-19 has focused minds on the resilience of the urban food retail system in supplying adequate food to the whole population. In this Conversation on COVID-19 I speculate on the potential plausible medium-term impacts of the pandemic on the food retail environment in the UK. This includes re-localisation of the food retail system; accelerated expansion and uptake of digital food delivery (including convergence of grocery/fastfood); restructuring of the fast-food environment; and the possible longer-term re-emergence of food deserts (both digital and physical). The impacts of these changes in diet and dietary inequalities are discussed.

To book onto this free webinar, please register here

The webinar will be hosted through Zoom. Attendees will be emailed the Zoom link and password.

The speaker will give a short presentation, followed by a discussion with the webinar organisers and attendees will have the opportunity to ask questions.

Any queries relating to this series contact Louise Boyle: Louise.Boyle@glasgow.ac.uk

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New webinar series: Conversations on COVID-19: #1 Problematising waste

Conversations on COVID-19 provides a unique forum for cross-disciplinary conversations that assess the geographical consequences of this global public health crisis. A series of online events will draw on a range of expertise, core issues, theoretical perspectives and methodological approaches that geographical scholarship can offer to better understand the geographies of COVID-19. The platform will be used to discuss ideas, practice, work in progress and plans for future research. This is important not only to document geographical research practice at this time but to contribute to wider academic, political and public policy debates and for mapping future research agendas.

Series organisers: Dr Ailie Tam (University of East Anglia) and Dr Louise Boyle (University of Glasgow)

Webinar 1

Day/time: Wed 17th March, 1pm-2pm

Topic: COVID-19 and the problemitisations of waste: reconstituting public, environmental, and occupational health

Guest speakers: Dr Angeliki Balayannis and Professor Steve Hinchliffe (Department of Geography, University of Exeter)

Research abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic has severely strained the UK’s critical infrastructures – and the waste sector is one of those facing a range of pressures. The proliferation of wayward disposable PPE has become a central matter of concern during the outbreak, but waste is more than an environmental problem. Every dimension of the UK economy is supported by the work of waste management, ranging from the collection of household waste from kerbsides to the incineration of hospital biohazards. This research examines how the UK waste sector is responding to the pandemic, and it explores the relations and tensions between public, environmental, and occupational health. As a sector that routinely navigates work with pathogens, it offers unique opportunities for learning how to live with infectious disease.

To book onto this webinar for free, please register here

The webinar will be hosted through Zoom. Attendees will be emailed the Zoom link and password.

The speakers will give a short presentation, followed by a discussion with the webinar organisers and attendees will have the opportunity to ask questions through the chat function.

Any queries relating to this series contact Louise Boyle: Louise.Boyle@glasgow.ac.uk

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“I know my body best”: Discussing embodied experiences of endometriosis in feminist health geography

Erika Martin, University of Bristol

Endometriosis is a gynaecological condition that is thought to be caused by the overgrowth of endometrial tissue outside the uterus, causing severe pain during menstruation, sex and urination as well as contributing to complications such as infertility and fatigue (RCOG, 2019). Despite its severity and prevalence (10% of women in the UK), the condition remains significantly under researched and therefore dangerously misunderstood. This is evidenced by the current 8-year-average wait time for diagnosis as well as the considerable lack of effective treatments available to patients in the UK (APPG, 2020). On top of this, women have been labelled as ‘hysterical’ and often struggle to be taken seriously by doctors and social others for their condition.

My dissertation recognises that previous medically focussed endometriosis research has therefore failed its patients and it is perhaps time to conduct research in new fields such as within the growing feminist geographies of health and wellbeing.

Introducing the ‘endo-body’

In my research I introduce the concept of the ‘endo-body’, which I argue is inherently spatial – both a place itself and becoming with the spaces around it. Drawing on Longhurst’s understanding of the fluid pregnant body, I argue that the endo-body has messy boundaries that pose a threat to the masculine notion that a body is static and stable (2001).

Alongside this, a social geographical understanding of the power relations embedded within all practices and institutions allowed me to recognise ‘Medicine’ as a social system rather than a source of absolute truth and thus I was able deconstruct some of the harmful assumptions we have been taught about endometriosis (Parr, 2004).

Finally, it was important that my research was grounded in the feminist geographies in order to resist hegemonic masculine forms of knowledge making that have been harmful in previous women’s health research and instead place value in women’s personal experiences and intuitions which I argue are imperative to understanding the condition.

Researching the endo-body

It was important that my research actively engaged with endometriosis patients in order to give them a platform to describe and explain their experiences. I conducted 7 in-depth semi-structured interviews, recruiting women through a survey I posted on an endometriosis group on Facebook. I then adopted Clarke and Brauns ‘thematic analysis’ in order to draw themes from the interview content. I then undertook a critical analysis and discussion of the interview content, summarised below.

Key Conclusions

I demonstrated that endometriosis is not asocial, rather our understanding of it is the product of a set of hegemonic social knowledges that become inscribed upon the body though certain medical processes.

For example, I showed that the common notion that women with endometriosis are hysterical is not naturally occurring, rather it is the product of medical gaslighting and a history of sexism in medicine. If doctors are sceptical about their patients condition, it causes inner conflict within the patients themselves, thus producing symptoms of ‘hysteria’.

“They told me that I don’t have endometriosis, that it’s all in my head” – Victoria.

Then, drawing on analysis from Moss and Dyck (1999), I showed that the medical power of diagnosis inscribes upon the body what it means to have endometriosis and be constructed as ill. Diagnosis is an important part in every woman’s journey as it allows their condition to be understood in more “culturally intelligible ways” (1999: 383), however it also dangerous as it constructs the endo-body as naturally and legitimately “deviant, abnormal [and] disabled” (1999: 377).

I further found that the presence of long-standing medical ideals such as the value of a woman’s fertility shaped women’s bodies. By placing value in reproduction, Medicine has constructed bodies with reproductive difficulties as invaluable. This was evidenced by the reported ‘difference’ one respondent felt following her hysterectomy, describing “facing the world with that very female part of [her] body missing”.

Finally, I found that the “bad attitude” another respondent reported, could be attributable to medical individualism which blames women for their condition (Lupton, 2012). I argue that Medicine constructs endo-bodies as the determiner of their own fate.

“People are just really unhelpful and kind of have a bad attitude about it” – Norma

Next, I explored the relationship between endometriosis and space. I showed that the ‘endo-body’ is a place itself – constituted by and of the spaces around it – by explaining how my participants became excluded and shaped by certain spaces.

For example, I found that due to the dependence these women had on toilet facilities while menstruating, they became excluded from public spaces with inadequate facilities. Kept in check by the social power of shame, endo-bodies become confined to the private sphere.

“The only place I feel safe when I’m ill is in my house” – Norma

I also found that it was common for my participants to experience tensions between their condition and their workplace. It became apparent that most of their workplaces held them to masculine bodily standards (e.g. expectations of continuous health throughout the month), meaning women with endometriosis who experienced immense difficulty during menstruation became marginalised and discriminated against due to their condition. My participants told me that they would “mask” and hide their symptoms in order to fit in, thus moulding their body to the environment around them.

Finally, I discussed the endo-body as a site of resistance. This became clear when critically analysing the social and spatial politics of endometriosis. Firstly, in drawing on Longhurst’s notion of the ‘leaky body’ I was able to introduce the ‘endo-body’ as a “site of resistance” (1995: 102), as it physically breaks its boundaries during menstruation thus going against the idea that the body is static. Similarly, I go on to argue that despite the power that public spaces have over the endo-body, they often go undetected in these spaces by masking and concealing their symptoms, which I argue is a subtle and powerful act of resistance.

I found that a history of medical mistreatment of women with endometriosis has inspired a collective scepticism in Medicine’s power that caused women to selectively resist or comply with interventions as they saw fit (Lock and Kaufert, 1998). Instead of accepting Medical intervention as truth, I found a prevalence of alternative intuitive knowledge-making in my participants, with women often trusting their own body-knowledge as opposed to that of their doctor (McNiven, 2014).

I know my body best and doctors just don’t seem to know as much as they claim to about endometriosis” – Amy

The collection of this knowledge has provided an expansive resource in the form of Online Support Groups that encourages these forms of resistance as well as providing support. By accepting this alternative form of knowledge-making as legitimate, I was able to uncover new understandings of embodied experience and resistance, whilst also resisting the masculinist knowledge-making that has been so problematic in constructing endo-bodies in the first place.

Although this theoretical dissertation does not aid the search for much needed preventative and symptomatic medical treatment, it can begin to shine a light on why this deficit exists in the first place – something that has scarcely been commented on in the literature. I hope that in grounding endometriosis in a feminist subdiscipline that resists harmful masculine knowledges, I have been able to show that alternative endometriosis research is possible. Endometriosis research that values women’s experience is needed now more than ever, perhaps geography holds the answer.

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Call for Papers: Emerging and New Researchers in the Geographies of Health and Impairment (ENRGHI) Conference 2021

Papers are invited for 20th ENRGHI Conference, a three-day virtual event organised by and for postgraduates and early career researchers, with generous support from the RGS (with IBG) Geographies of Health and Wellbeing Research Group (https://ghwrg.wordpress.com/).

This longstanding conference offers a supportive environment to showcase research provides valuable opportunities for networking, research feedback and discussion with researchers and students who have a shared interest in geographies of health and wellbeing.

Attracting an international audience, the conference welcomes abstracts from individuals involved in health or wellbeing research within social, geographical, and/or environmental contexts. We invite submissions from both those working within and outside of geography as a discipline. The 2021 conference will take place on the 30th June – 2nd July 2021 and isco-hosted virtually by the University of Salford and the University of Groningen.

Conference papers can be based on work-in-progress or completed work. PhD students are encouraged to focus on a particular study aspect, such as a specific method, a literature review, or one aspect of empirical findings, rather than trying to cover their whole project.

The scope of the conference is broad to reflect the diversity of topics and research approaches utilised within the field of health, wellbeing, illness and impairment. Topics covered in previous conferences have included:

  • Health and wellbeing related to environments
  • Attitudes to and changes in healthcare
  • Health related behaviours and practices
  • Health inequalities, environmental justice and equity
  • Therapeutic landscapes, green/blue and ‘enabling’ spaces
  • Health and wellbeing through the life course
  • Mental health
  • Aspects of health and illness as emergent in everyday life
  • Disability, impairment and stigma
  • everyday life, disability, and stigma
  • Migration, mobilities, and health
  • Health-care delivery and access to services
  • Health, mapping, and spatial analysis
  • Health and health care in the Global South
  • Experiences of illness
  • Geographies of recovery

Additional topics of interest could include but are by no means limited to:

  • Health tourism
  • Healthy ‘norms’, socio-cultural dynamics, and moral judgements
  • Traditional medicine and healing
  • Environmental exposures and risk perception
  • Innovative methods for exploring geographies of health and impairment
  • The impact of Covid-19 on research related to health and wellbeing

 
 Guidelines for Submissions

Abstracts should be no longer than 250 words.

Please also provide the:

  • Title
  • author(s)
  • and affiliation.

Oral presentations will be 10 minutes (pre-recorded), followed by five minutes of questions. Posters should be A0 in size and there will be designated time slots for poster presentations during the virtual conference. Please state whether you are interested in doing a presentation, poster and/or chairing a session on what broad area/topic/theory/methodology.

Prizes will be available (More on this soon!)

Abstracts should be submitted via the google form by 19th April 2021.

Any queries please contact Tom Lowe (t.a.lowe@rug.nl) and Louise Mitchell (l.mitchell8@edu.salford.ac.uk)

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#GHWRG Journeys series 2: 1.Prof Sarah Curtis

Tell us about your journey working in the field of geographies of health and wellbeing

I am delighted to have been invited to contributed to this fascinating series of accounts of ‘journeys’ followed by health geographers through their careers.


Some of the participants at the IMGS 2011, held at Durham University, as they take time out to visit Hadrian’s Wall.

This is also quite a challenge – how to summarize a whole working life in this field without being too long-winded? Reluctantly, I have decided that it is impossible to try to mention by name the individual colleagues and mentors who have given me such valuable help and advice along the way – this is a very long list and I do not want to mention some while leaving others out! Therefore I’m starting this piece with a very big ‘thank you’ to all the family members, teachers and lecturers, academic colleagues, administrative staff, staff in governmental agencies and NGOs, as well as individual members of the public, who at various points have helped me to progress in my career.  They have enabled me to build up my knowledge and skills,  given me great opportunities, helped me cope with day to day problems, endeavoured to keep me organized, and helped me understand how the world looks from a non-academic perspective and how research can be helpful across society as a whole. The main message here, of course, is that one’s journey through an academic life is closely linked to the opportunities that arise throughout this journey for personal contacts who make a big difference to the way the journey turns out.  The individual journey is really a collective experience and I think that those reading this piece will agree that it is very important to be aware of how one’s interactions with others are crucial to the directions taken and the destinations reached along the way.

The academic journey is also a passage through different ‘academic spaces’, set in various disciplines, institutions and geographical regions. Before even reaching a formal ‘academic space’ at University level, I guess I got off to an early start (without realising it!), since my parents were both geographers who took their degrees in Bristol University, thanks to scholarships set up for students training as teachers and for members of the armed forces stepping down after WWII.  I went on to study geography at Oxford University, at a moment when the human and social dimensions of the discipline were seeing a period of expansion and evolution.  This probably prepared me for my next move, to the University of Kent at Canterbury, UK.  Here I suddenly had to expand my field of vision, since I was taking a PhD in the Centre for Urban and Regional Studies (CURS), where there was a focus on multi-disciplinary working.  I realised that social science viewed from within Geography was only part of the picture and that I needed to be able to work alongside colleagues with other disciplinary perspectives to understand aspects of their ways of thinking. The very encouraging supervision provided at CURS started me thinking about health and health care and led me forward to completing a PhD on access to health care for older people. It dawned on me how health related experiences vary at different stages in the life course!  A further opportunity at the University of Kent arose as I moved into a PDRA position in the Personal Social Services Research Unit, using national survey data to examine factors affecting social care needs of older people, as part of a research project that informed design of a government funding formulae for public social care provision in different parts of the UK. Having conducted a small survey of my own for my PhD, I saw how this experience tied into understanding and interpreting a national scale survey through secondary analysis. The senior team members, mostly from a background in economics and political sciences, were a real inspiration.

Next, I moved back into the Geographical fold, at Queen Mary, University of London (when it was Queen Mary College), taking up a PDRA post which involved running a household survey in two London Boroughs.  Now I was finding out how to organize a whole team of people to conduct a project.  I also learned a lot about urban deprivation and inequalities in health in the metropolis. This department was also an extremely collegial and supportive place to work. I really appreciated help and advice from the Senior Staff and the friendly ‘common room’ network to other members of the Department. As I moved into a more permanent lecturing post, I was meeting students, many of whom were from the local community in East London, and it was great to see how talented young people, often from relatively deprived and very diverse backgrounds grabbed the chance to expand their horizons through a University degree. I noticed how many of them seemed to go through a ‘meteoric’ upward academic trajectory, realising their potential as they progressed though the undergraduate programme. We also attracted many very able PhD students and it was a privilege to supervise a number of them.  I am sure I learned as much from them as they did from me, and I’ve always felt that this supervisory role is one of the most rewarding in an academic career.

I spent 25 years very happily working at QMUL and ending up in a Professorial Position.  Over the time, QMUL had merged with the Barts and the London Medical School, creating new ways to engage in research with colleagues in Medicine and Public Health.  We worked on various research projects, often in collaboration with local and national health agencies.  Now I could really see how geography can be relevant to public health and health policy! My career development also benefited very much from advice and encouragement from my husband (an expert in personnel management), helping me to negotiate a reasonable balance between research, teaching and administrative responsibilities!

In the end, although it was quite a wrench to leave QMUL, I was attracted to a new post in the Geography Department at Durham University. This was another great opportunity to engage with cutting edge and world leading research and to collaborate with very able and supportive colleagues making up a cluster of specialists in geographies of health and wellbeing. My job title, ‘Professor of Health and Risk’, reflected the focus of my role at Durham, which included research with cross disciplinary teams on issues relating to socio-environmental risk factors for health and health care.  Latterly, I was also Director of the Institute of Hazard Risk and Resilience.  Once again, I could clearly see how pivotal geography can be in multi-disciplinary studies, given its focus on the complex interactions between people and their environments.

Now, as I am ‘sailing calmer waters’ into retirement, I really appreciate being made an Emeritus Professor at Durham University, and also an Honorary Professor at University of Edinburgh, where I collaborate with colleagues at the Centre for Research on Environment, Society and Health, which is leading research and training programmes of global significance.

I have also benefited from being included in several of the more broadly focussed ‘academic spaces’ in the UK and abroad.  These have included two consecutive mandates as a member of the national Conseil Scientifique at the CNRS in France, the culmination of a series of collaborations and research visits in France and Quebec, which have been very enjoyable and illuminating. (Working in a different language and in a different national context makes you think about Geography in new ways!) 

In the UK, as Fellow of the British Academy and Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, I am able to connect to action to promote the wider role of academic knowledge in society. I also enjoy contributing to other work of these organizations, such as grant funding programmes offering opportunities for the new talent emerging among early career researchers.

What has been most fascinating, surprising or rewarding in the course of this journey? 

Most fascinating and surprising things arise from the process of research. For me, some of the most rewarding aspects of my work come from the feeling that it has informed the debate highlighting health inequalities and why geography matters as we continue to address them.

Have you experienced any ethical, practical or research related challenges along the way?

There have been challenges at every step, of course.  However, ‘perseverance’ is my ‘middle name’ and often if you keep trying you succeed! There are times, though, when I’ve had to realise that I needed to take notice of good advice pointing out that I should change track in order to get to the desired destination. Listening to senior academic staff, administrators and advisors from outside academia has often helped me avoid pitfalls.

What advice would you give to an aspiring health or wellbeing geographer?

Readers may have spotted some general reflections above on how I have ‘learned from experience’.  It may be interesting for those setting out to be health/wellbeing geographers to bear these ‘lessons I’ve learned’ in mind!  However, here’s one more ‘concrete’ suggestion: Join the RGS Geography of Health and Wellbeing Research group!

Throughout my career, the GHWRG and the wider Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers has been one of the most important ‘academic spaces’ shaping my career. I can recall attending some of the earliest International Medical Geography Symposia and finding it very encouraging and enlightening to be surrounded by colleagues who shared my interests and were so supportive. I think it is of real benefit that, as well as the academic proceedings, we continue to include a day’s ‘field excursion’ as part of the programme – this is when we have extra time to link up with other colleagues in all parts of the field and at all career stages. The increasingly international scope and locations of these meetings makes me feel part of a stream of research with global reach.  It was a real ‘milestone’ for me to be part of the team in the Geography Department in Durham who organized the 2011 IMGS. The picture below shows just a few of the many participants who explored Hadrian’s wall on our ‘day out’ (as organizers, we were so pleased that the sun shone for us!). (See more photos at:

https://www.dur.ac.uk/geography/conferences/imgs/image_gallery/ .)  

The IMGS is very well complemented by the Emerging and New Researchers in the Geographies of Health & Impairment (ENRGHI) meetings, which are such a great ‘academic space’ for postgraduates and other early career researchers in geographies of health and wellbeing. By the time these were established, I was viewing things from the ‘other end of the career pipeline’ as an invited senior researcher, privileged to get to learn about so much great work by colleagues starting out on their careers.    

All credit, therefore, to the committee of the GHWRG for exceptionally good work in promoting this sense of a shared space for geographers of health and wellbeing and reinforcing it by recording our ‘family history’!

Links to websites:

https://www.dur.ac.uk/geography/staff/geogstaffhidden/?id=4163

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GHWRG Sponsored Sessions at the RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2021, 31st August – 3rd September

The Geographies of Health and Wellbeing Research Group (GHWRG) would like to invite expressions of interest for sponsored sessions at the RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2021. The conference will focus on Borders, Borderlands and Bordering and will be chaired by Professor Uma Kothari. The conference plans to take a hybrid approach with in-person and online options. In early April, the RGS-IBG will confirm whether in-person events can take place alongside online sessions. 

The Geographies of Health and Wellbeing Research Group would be interested in sponsoring sessions that engage with the conference theme from the perspective of health, wellbeing, and medical geographies. In addition, we also welcome sessions that do not engage with the overarching conference theme, if you can justify that it is on a pressing and topical issue related to the geographies of health and wellbeing. We can sponsor up to 12 session slots. These will be badged as ‘GHWRG’ sponsored sessions within the conference programme, and we will also promote the sessions via our website and social media. 

Please email submissions for session sponsorship to Rich Gorman (R.Gorman@bsms.ac.ukby Friday 5th February 2021 making sure to include the session title (max 15 words) and abstract (max 300 words), name(s) and affiliation(s) of the session convenor(s), the anticipated format of the session, the number of 1h 40 minute slots requested (max 2), and whether you are planning an online or in-person session. 

We will inform session organizers about decisions relating to GHWRG sponsorship by Friday 12th February 2021. Once a sponsorship decision has been made, you will have until Friday, 12 March 2021 to provide the full session details (with all proposed papers and presenters) for final submission directly to the RGS-IBG. The full guidelines for organizing sessions can be found at: https://www.rgs.org/research/annual-international-conference/programme-(1)/guidance-for-session-organisers/

Please direct any questions to Rich Gorman (R.Gorman@bsms.ac.uk). Further details about the Annual Conference 2021 can be found at https://www.rgs.org/research/annual-international-conference/ and more information about the Geographies of Health and Wellbeing Research Group at https://ghwrg.wordpress.com/

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GHWRG 2020 Dissertation Prize Winner – Lottie (Charlotte) Ross, University of Nottingham

Bearing the weight: Dis-figuring understandings of fatness in the gymLottie (Charlotte) Ross, University of Nottingham

Figure 1: Lottie with the final copy of her dissertation!

Being an avid gym-goer myself I was initially intrigued by the feelings a particular space – the gym –could induce, just by passive being in it. As my research began, I quickly learnt that no physical body is ever passive in space but contributes both directly and indirectly to shaping that space and the experiences of bodies in it. In a similar vein, an experience of a place does not begin at the moment a body becomes physically present in that location, but is deeply rooted in the pre-conceptual thoughts and understandings of that space which are constantly formed, and re-formed, at times prior to actually entering a particular space. Therefore, my study developed to investigate the inner workings of the gym and the socio-spatial processes which manifest, routinise and reinforce particular understandings of health and the way it is practiced.

Inspired by elements of my own experiences, and largely the commentary of family and friends driven by scrupulous New Years’ resolutions and ‘get into shape’ regimes, I decided to explore the root of these emotions. My aims were centred on exploring the lived experiences of those who identified with the larger body or the ‘fat’ identity, and the ways in which the gym marginalised these people by legitimising the fit body over the fat body. I looked to explore power relations embedded between people and place in the gym, and to challenge the stigma associated with body size in this environment.

In doing so, I demonstrated the ‘figured’ nature of the gym reflected in the contentious reactions and readings of non-conforming larger bodies. This concept articulates and expresses the place-based exclusionary processes that draw boundaries based on social categories, and the prejudice and exclusion which can be associated with living in a (dis-figured) larger body. My study contributes largely to health studies, but particularly the discourse around Healthism and the ways this is reflected, but also resisted, in the space of the gym. It is also increasingly relevant to discussions around obesity by opening conversations around the broader social, political and economic contexts which shape lifestyles and access to spaces of health, beyond simply their proximities.

I was keen to take an approach which allowed for a high level of interaction between myself and those who volunteered for my study, in order to capture their experience in both the words they used but also the body language they consciously and subconsciously displayed. Participants were gathered through self-identification which in itself was a revealing part of the process, reflecting how we perceive our own body and the idea of health, and how we fit into a range of socially endorsed classifications dictated by particular physical characteristics. Going forward, this is something I would be interested in exploring further.

I undertook fourteen virtual interviews with a range of participants of different body shapes and sizes, paying particular attention to the pauses, silences, absences and emotional expressions used alongside their discernible responses. I also gave participants the opportunity to map their real-time experiences using a gym journal, and while this was not taken up across the whole group, it provided nuanced and valuable insight into immediate ‘in-the-moment’ thoughts and feelings not necessarily possible to gain from interview recall.

My project showed how the gym mobilises the ideology of healthism, fostering the moralisation of health behaviours in the pursuit of the fatless ‘ideal’ body. The concept of visibility became prevalent over the course of the study, where larger bodies were made hyper-visible in the gym, subjecting them to the scrutiny of other members as the body becomes a visible metaphor of healthism. Factors including clothing, perceived ability and the presence of mirrors in the gym contributed to this. Fat bodies were further rendered out of place through alienating fat-bias communication patterns of personal trainers, which presented the larger body as a subject of improvement, reinforcing an inferior-superior power dynamic between the fat body and the fit personal trainer.

Examining both the physical and emotional mobility in the gym promotes a retheorisation of how broader social, political and economic contexts can act as a disabling force, and prompts new understandings of power, identity and social relationships between people and place. This research project recognises that dis-figuring understandings of health requires addressing the deeper social, cultural and political structures that underlie fat oppression and exclusion. By reshaping the ways health is understood and practiced, detaching fatness from the inherently ‘unhealthy’ label and derogatory characteristics associated with living in a fat body, larger bodies would experience a greater sense of belonging in the gym, and beyond.

The process of completing this dissertation was challenging but hugely enjoyable, and has opened up new avenues of interest and research which I look forward to exploring in the future. It goes without saying but I would like to say a huge thank you to Stephanie Coen, my dissertation tutor and the School of Geography at The University of Nottingham for all their help and support, as well as all the lovely people who took part in my study.

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GHWRG 2020 Dissertation Prize Highly Commended – Jemima Richardson-Jones, University of Oxford (Keble College)

‘The “magic” of music: relocation and the creation of “spaces of wellbeing in a residential care home’ – Jemima Richardson-Jones, University of Oxford, Keble College

Figure 1: Jemima at Keble College

The dissertation project was by far the most stimulating aspect of my undergraduate degree; it allowed me to take ownership and explore aspects of the course I found fascinating.  Outside of my studies, I continued my passion for music as a Choral Scholar in Keble College Chapel Choir. I also supported my fellow peers and raised awareness of mental health as a Peer Supporter and the JCR Female Welfare Officer at Keble College. I wanted to explore both of these passions within my dissertation project.

The optional module exploring “affective experience” and non-representational theory, which I studied in my second year, captivated me. I became interested in how the concept of “health” within health geographies has shifted over time to incorporate health as a feeling and experience beyond merely a physical state (Andrews, 2008). I wanted to examine how we can expose the body to positive forces that are conducive to positive and “healthy” affective experiences. Indeed, music has been frequently cited to have therapeutic qualities, particularly for those suffering from dementia (Leggieri et al., 2019). Therefore, I wanted to explore how music could be such a positive force for older adults. COVID-19 has brought to the fore how older adults, particularly those residing in residential care homes, often “fall off the map” within research, health policy, and society as a whole (Brown et al., 2018). Furthermore, with claims that depression in the elderly will be the next big mental health crisis (Warner in Smyth, 2014), I felt motivated to address this issue within my research. 

In Summer 2019, I spent two months in a residential care home, during which time I interviewed twelve residents, creating a series of “musical auto-biographies”, using pieces of music to map out significant times and places in each of their lives (Dassa, 2018). I also observed participants during musical-related activities in the care home. As a thank-you for their participation, each resident received a personalised CD, which meant they could listen to their “musical auto-biographies” at leisure (Image 1, 2). My research helped me to explore the significance of musical listening for the elderly, and critically examine whether Fleuret and Aktinson’s (2007) model of the “spaces of wellbeing” can be applied within this context.

Figure 2: Personalised CDs containing each participants’ “musical auto-biography”.
Figure 3: Personalised CDs containing each participants’ “musical auto-biography”.

Firstly, my dissertation highlights the importance of exploring musical listening as a significant practice in its own right within geography, when much of geographical enquiry within music geography focuses on the making of music. This is precisely because music has the “magical” ability to facilitate what Rowles (1980; 1983) calls a “geographical fantasy”. Participants frequently said they were transported to different times and places in their lives through listening to music. When listening to music, residents occupy a “liminal” space and time, which is “between” then and now, and there and here. This sustained engagement with places and times outside of the care home helps residents feel a sense of “insideness” and belonging within the care home. These findings show that “liminality” provides a valuable conceptual tool to help geographers unpack the complex temporalities and spatialities conjured through musical listening, and how this might improve wellbeing within the context of a residential care home. I included an original composition alongside my dissertation. I composed this with the intention of capturing the “magical” capabilities of music to facilitate “liminal” temporalities and spatialities.  The major contribution this dissertation provides to health geographies is a critical reconfiguration of Fleuret and Aktinson’s (2007) model of the “spaces of wellbeing”. I found their model did not fully capture the positive impact of musical listening recounted by the participants. I therefore modified their model. Rather than treating the four spaces as discrete and static entities, the new model acknowledges the “liminality” and the complex spatialities, socialities and temporalities recounted by the participants, represented by the porous outline and uneven, overlapping areas (Image 3, 4).

Image 3: “Spaces of Wellbeing”, a model taken from Fleuret and Atkinson (2007)
Image 4: My critical re-configuration of Fleuret and Atkinson’s model

Finally, I felt it important to include some practical recommendations for the care home to use in order to maximise the beneficial health outcomes produced through musical listening. For example, group sessions designed to create group “musical biographies”.

I was extremely pleased to find out that my project has been recognised as “Highly Commended” by the Geographies of Health and Wellbeing Research Group in their Undergraduate Dissertation Prize 2020. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my supervisors – Janet Banfield and Fiona Ferbrache – for their invaluable support and guidance. Thank you also to the residential care home – getting to know your residents and wonderful staff has been a real privilege. 

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RGS GHWRG Dissertation Prize 2020

Reflecting the growth in interests in geographies of health and wellbeing, the GHWRG 2020 Dissertation Prize had a record-breaking 19 submissions from UK Geography departments.

The projects examined cutting-edge and socially relevant topics including endometriosis (Martin), fatness (Noden, Ross), mental health (Francis, Mayor), wellbeing (Cizikova, Dallas), allergies (Greenhalgh), vaccine knowledge (Noble), the Zika virus (Thurlow), and homelessness (Bodsworth, East), demonstrating the breadth of health and wellbeing geographies.

Students adopted a whole host of novel and at times extensive methods. One student created a musical artefact for care home residents (Richardson-Jones), and others volunteered their time and energy to work with the groups they were researching (Wheat). Yet more created clear policy initiatives, showing the applicability of health geographies into the planning of green spaces (Elsegood), the relevance of Extra Care Schemes (Moses), and the placing of new GP services (Heritage).

Following a tough review and judging process, the committee has selected an overall Winner and Runner-up to receive the Health and Place sponsored awards. Recognising the strength of the submissions, an additional two dissertations have been recognised as Highly Commended.

Please join us in celebrating this year’s winners:

WINNER

Charlotte Ross – University of Nottingham

“Bearing the weight: Dis-figuring understandings of fatness in the gym”

  • Develops insight into the inner workings of the gym and the socio-spatial processes which manifest, routinise and reinforce figured understandings and attitudes towards fatness.
  • Takes an emotional approach incorporating 15 semi-structured virtual interviews, journaling, and a walking interview to uniquely explore the lived experiences of larger-bodied people within the gym.
  • Concludes that that fundamental change to dis-figure understandings of fatness within the gym and beyond, must address the deeper social, cultural and political structures underlying fat oppression and exclusion through the way health is practiced and understood

RUNNER-UP

Erika Munch Martin – University of Bristol

‘”I know my body best”: Discussing embodied experiences of endometriosis in feminist health geography’

  • Undertakes a feminist geographical reading of women’s embodied experiences of endometriosis – a chronic illness whose painful and debilitating symptoms remain significantly under-researched.
  • Based on seven semi-structured interviews, the project exposes the problematic medical constructions of endometriosis, recognising the significance of space and place in women’s embodied experiences and resisting masculinist rationality by emphasising bodily materiality and valuing alternative knowledge making.
  • Proposing the concept of ‘endo-bodies’, the research indicates that endometriosis can be successfully read in health geography terms, providing the foundation for new lines of inquiry in endometriosis research.

HIGHLY COMMENDED

Claire Heritage – University of Southampton

‘A Geographic Information Systems (GIS) based study of the provision of General Practitioner Surgeries within Surrey’

  • Analyses the physical accessibility of primary healthcare through Geographical Information Systems (GIS) based measures of potential accessibility using maximum time thresholds of both walking and driving as indicators of the level of accessibility.
  • Focuses on those with the highest healthcare demands to ensure the recommendations aid those in most need.
  • As literature has not previously examined the provision of GP surgeries within Surrey, this project offers well-evidenced recommendations concerning the future provision of GP surgeries in Surrey, pointing to the relevance of librarys as new GP locations.

Jemima Richardson-Jones – University of Oxford

‘The “magic” of music: relocation and the creation of “spaces of wellbeing” in a residential care home’

  • Engages with a residential care home to ascertain the value of musical listening for the creation of “spaces of wellbeing” and experiences of relocation.
  • Involved the immersion of the researcher into the ‘lifeworlds’ of residents in the care home and the creation of twelve residents’ “musical auto-biographies”.
  • Conclusions suggest that musical listening is an important practice for older adults moving into long-term care facilities. However, researchers need to explore how we can negotiate the politics within these settings in order to open up residents to the “magic” of musical listening.

Maddy Thompson

(GHWRG Dissertation Prize Coordinator)

Mentoring during and beyond Covid: workshop 12th Jan 2021

This event has been postponed, instead we will be hosting an informal virtual coffee, chat and yoga session at the same time. The Mentoring event will be re-scheduled after the national lockdown. As an organising committee we felt it was unfair to proceed with the event in the current circumstances knowing that many of the potential attendees are experiencing increased work pressures and caring giving burdens due to schools and universities closing.

Can mentoring help address social inequalities in academia? 

The Geographies of Health and Wellbeing Research Group (GHWRG) and the Gender and Feminist Geographies Research Group (GFGRG) are collaborating to drive forward a mentoring agenda in geography and discuss this pertinent question in a virtual workshop. 

We are inviting you to join the conversation. The workshop will take place on Tuesday 12th January 11.30am-1.30pm (GMT)

Book a free place here https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/mentoring-in-academia-during-and-beyond-covid-tickets-129867131085

Any queries regarding this workshop contact Ailie Tam (a.tam@uea.ac.uk)