Call for abstracts and participation: Global mental health and therapeutic assemblages

Global mental health and therapeutic assemblages: concepts, controversy and necessary tensions

A two-day interdisciplinary conference, February 12-13th 2018, University of Sheffield UK

Call for abstracts and participation

Global mental health as a field of study and practice involves a wide heterogeneous assemblage of actors and is a controversial field that despite huge achievements has also attracted much critique. While for some the very concept of global mental health is an oxymoron and a form of medical imperialism (Summerfield, 2013), for others it has proved a practical way of leveraging political attention on a much-neglected area. This makes for a sometimes hostile and polemic intellectual climate that risks reaching an impasse (Cooper, 2016). This conference aims to draw out the necessary tensions of this field through critical interdisciplinary discussion and debate. It aims to create space to explore how activists, mental health users and survivors, and academics from various fields (such as, Mad Studies, Postcolonial Theory, Disability Studies, Human Geography, History, Literary studies, Education, and Science and Technology Studies, and many more) can enrich and / or trouble debates around global mental health.

The conference is open to all working in and around global mental health and wider therapeutic assemblages, and especially welcomes postgraduate and early career researchers, those who have lived experience of a psychiatric diagnosis, or of distress, and those who live and/or work in the global South on mental health issues. It aims to explore and showcase the multiple contemporary (converging and diverging) directions of, and innovations in, global mental health research and practice.

For further information on conference content, funding opportunities, and submission of abstracts (deadline 11th December), see

For queries please contact


Call for RGS-IBG Session Sponsorship – Geographies of Health and Wellbeing Research Group

Call for RGS-IBG Session Sponsorship – Geographies of Health and Wellbeing Research Group

Deadline: Monday 18 December 2017

The Geographies of Health and Wellbeing Research Group of the RGS-IBG would like to invite expressions of interest for sponsored sessions at the RGS-IBG 2018 Annual Conference.

The conference will take place at Cardiff University from Wednesday 29 to Friday 31 August 2018 with workshops and opening events on Tuesday 28 August. The chair of the 2018 conference is Professor Paul Milbourne (Cardiff University). The conference theme is ‘Geographical landscapes / changing landscapes of geography’.

We welcome proposals for sessions that engage with the conference theme from the perspective of health, wellbeing, and medical geographies, and that could relate to the following:

  • Landscapes of the past, present and future
  • Rural, urban and post-industrial landscapes
  • Colonial, post-colonial and decolonial landscapes
  • Landscapes of power, oppression, exploitation and conflict
  • Landscapes of resistance and justice
  • Landscapes of community and care
  • Spaces of nature and more-than-human landscapes
  • Landscape representations, belongings and identities
  • Bodily engagements with landscape
  • Beyond the land: digital landscapes and soundscapes
  • Liquid landscapes: coastal spaces, seascapes and blue infrastructure
  • Edible landscapes: spaces of food production and consumption
  • Ordinary, mundane and everyday landscapes
  • New landscapes of austerity and Brexit

In addition to the sub-themes above, we of course also welcome other sessions that do NOT engage with the theme, particularly if you can justify that it is on a pressing and topical issue related to health and wellbeing.

Full call for sessions can be found here:

The deadline for session proposals submissions to GHWRG is Monday 18 December 2017.

Please email submissions to Rich Gorman (, including session title and abstract (max 400 words), name(s) and affiliation(s) of the session convenor(s), and the anticipated format of the session.

Session convenors will be notified in due course as to whether or not GHWRG will be able to provide sponsorship for your session. We can sponsor up to 12 session slots. Please bear in mind that sessions cannot occupy more than two slots in the whole programme.

Once a sponsorship decision has been made, you will have until Friday 16 February 2018 to provide the full session details (with all proposed papers and presenters) for final submission to the RGS-IBG. The full guidelines for organizing sessions can be found at:

We look forward to hearing from you. If you have any specific queries regarding session proposal submissions to the GHWRG, please contact Rich Gorman ( or Andy Power (


Correspondence info.

We send out most of our communications through the Geographies of Health and Wellbeing Research Group mailing list. You can subscribe to the Jiscmail list here. We will notify you of our upcoming events throughout the year, including the ENRGHI conference and our Walk and Talks.

If you would like to publicise an event or paper, or connect with other members you can email and the email will be circulated to the whole mailing list.

We also circulate information via our website and Twitter. Don’t forget to follow us: @GeogHealth


GHWRG Undergraduate Dissertation Awards 2017

Winner of GHWRG Dissertation prize 2017: Alicia Souter (Newcastle University) “An investigation in to the problematic nature of drunkenness and excessive alcohol consumption for the city of Newcastle Upon Tyne.” Read about Alicia’s research below.

Highly commended GHWRG Dissertation prize 2017: Ella Sivan (University of Cambridge) “The way we live now: experiences of chronic pain and the benefit system.”


1 gradution

“My work on the problematic nature of drunkenness and excessive alcohol consumption was submitted for my third-year undergraduate dissertation. Situating my research in Newcastle Upon Tyne, my experience as a resident and indeed student inspired my project, along with the works of Dr Robert Hollands and Dr Robert Shaw, both of whom lecture at Newcastle University.

The final write-up of my piece was entitled “An investigation in to the problematic nature of drunkenness and excessive alcohol consumption for the city of Newcastle Upon Tyne”.  My paper investigated the detrimental effects of the city’s night time economy on those vulnerable to its exposure,  focussing on health, disorder and disassociation through the collapse of industry and its resulting nightscapes.

Now, studying for my Masters in Human Geography Research, I intend to continue my studies in to a PhD with the intention of exploring the world’s various ‘Night Mayor’ schemes, homing in on what this entails for the governance of the Night Time Economy and what more can be done in the way of policy.”


The GHWRG offers a dissertation prize of £100, sponsored by the international journal Health and Place published by Elsevier. The prize is open to any currently registered undergraduate student in a UK University and will be awarded to the dissertation that exhibits the best overall contribution to any issue relating to health geography. For more information click here.



GHWRG sponsored sessions at RGS-IBG Annual Conference 2017

The following is a list of sessions and convenor(s), including the AGM and the launch of ‘Health Geographies – A Critical Introduction‘, at the upcoming RGS-IBG Annual Conference that will be held from 29th August – 1st September.

Further information on session times, locations, abstracts and presenters are available here.

Wednesday 30 August

Transformative Stories: Trauma, Therapeutic Geographies and Hope

Jo Little (University of Exeter, UK)
Lia Bryant (University of South Australia, Australia)

The Health Millennium Development Goals: Global Strides, Local Meanders

Anthonia Onyeahialam (Aberystwyth University, UK)

Home futures: towards a critical feminist geography of housing, ageing and health (1)

Karen West (Aston University, UK)
Sheila Peace (The Open University, UK)
Melissa Fernández Arrigoitia (Lancaster University, UK)

Home futures: towards a critical feminist geography of housing, ageing and health (2)

Melissa Fernández Arrigoitia (Lancaster University, UK)
Karen West (Aston University, UK)
Sheila Peace (The Open University, UK)

Thursday 31 August

New and Emerging Research within Geographies of Health and Wellbeing (1)

Gareth Griffith (University of Bristol, UK)
Sarah Bell (University of Exeter, UK)
Samuel Strong (University of Cambridge, UK)

New and Emerging Research within Geographies of Health and Wellbeing (2)

Sarah Bell (University of Exeter, UK)
Samuel Strong (University of Cambridge, UK)
Gareth Griffith (University of Bristol, UK)

Geographies of Health and Wellbeing Research Group AGM

Health in the buffer zone of EU

Izabella Lecka (University of Warsaw, Poland)

Sensing and making sense of ‘nature’ in the context of illness and impairment

Sarah Bell (University of Exeter, UK)
Ronan Foley (National University of Ireland, Maynooth, Ireland)

Book launch and drinks reception: Health Geographies – A Critical Introduction

Friday 01 September

Researcher Trauma: dealing with traumatic research content and places (1)

Christine Eriksen (University of Wollongong, Australia)
Danielle Drozdzewski (University of New South Wales, Australia)
Dale Dominey-Howes (University of Sydney, Australia)

Researcher Trauma: dealing with traumatic research content and places (2)

Christine Eriksen (University of Wollongong, Australia)
Danielle Drozdzewski (University of New South Wales, Australia)
Dale Dominey-Howes (University of Sydney, Australia)


‘Researching Wellbeing’ at the Royal Geographical Society

Authored by Sarah Bell

In April, I had a great opportunity to be part of the ‘Researching Wellbeing’ event, held at the Royal Geographical Society and jointly sponsored by the Geographies of Health and Wellbeing Research Group and the Development Studies Association.

Professor Sarah Atkinson (Durham University) and Professor Sarah White (University of Bath) opened the event, drawing on their respective fields of Geography and Development Studies to give a flavour of some of the key ideas, themes and debates that have come to characterise wellbeing research to date. These themes were then illustrated through case studies presented by Dr Iokine Rodriguez (University of East Anglia) and myself (Dr Sarah Bell, University of Exeter), highlighting some of the challenges and benefits of researching wellbeing at both individual and community levels.

There are huge variations in how people across cultures define, prioritise and experience wellbeing; across much of the Anglo/American literature, there is a tendency to prioritise individual values when we think about wellbeing. As discussed by Sarah Atkinson, we therefore see efforts in policy circles to assess wellbeing at the individual level in terms of its component parts – such as social relationships, health issues, income status, safety and security – before then using aggregates of those measures to inform the allocation of resources across different groups within the population. Although these ‘big data’ sets are deemed important for detecting health and wellbeing inequalities within and across populations, there are three key limitations to this approach.

First, it fails to recognise a community or group as more than the sum of its parts; that social life is bigger than the individuals within it and that one’s wellbeing is often intimately tied up with that of another – be it a person, a place, or more intangible entities such as histories, socio-cultural meanings and values. This creates a paradox whereby dominant discourses of wellbeing are highly individualised, and yet the complexities of individual life are lost in the aggregate measures that are used to inform policy intervention.

Second, it places responsibility for maximising wellbeing upon individuals, thereby shifting the focus away from the socio-cultural, physical, economic, political and historical contexts in which people are embedded (and indeed, for many, constrained by). This shift is reflected in the plethora of interventions targeting ‘behaviour change’, seeking to equip people with the information they need to proactively ‘work’ on their internal wellbeing. Therefore, as noted by Sarah White, while the concept of wellbeing can be democratic, it also lends itself to somewhat intrusive interventions that assume individuals have the agency to enact ‘expert’-prescribed wellbeing behaviours while simultaneously denying their agency to define or prioritise wellbeing practices that make sense in the complex relational contexts of their everyday lives. Reflecting on this, I drew on my current research to discuss how and why people living with vision impairment may or may not come to embody diverse wellbeing practices in nature.

Thirdly, it assumes a somewhat universal conception of wellbeing, thereby failing to engage with deeper and longstanding philosophical debates about ‘a good life’; what constitutes a good life at different times, amongst diverse cultures and in the context of shifting relationships? It overlooks the contrasting interdependent values that underpin notions of wellbeing amongst many other cultures, and paints wellbeing as an endpoint rather than a process that could support progress towards wider collective goals, such as those linked to sustainability or environmental justice. As illustrated by Iokine Rodriguez, for example, fostering intercultural relationships that support the identification of mutually respected notions of wellbeing can be integral for transforming environmental conflicts within indigenous territories.

Looking ahead, we discussed the need to address such tensions in how wellbeing is constructed and measured; in particular, we noted the need for more critical reflection regarding the research methods we use to understand diverse cultures of wellbeing and how they emerge, evolve and shift both spatially and temporally across different groups and communities, at different (often intersecting) scales of analysis.

For more detailed insights into some of these themes, do look at the edited collection ‘Wellbeing and Place’ produced by Sarah Atkinson, and Sarah White’s new volume, ‘Cultures of Wellbeing: Method Place Policy’, which was launched at this event.


GHWRG at the PGF Mid-term Conference, Cardiff.

Our postgraduate representatives for the GHWRG, Gareth Griffith (University of Bristol) and Cornelia Van Diepen (University of Portsmouth) attended the RGS Postgraduate Mid-Term Conference in Cardiff. They had this to say about the event:

The RGS Mid-Term was great. It was an excellent coming together of a great number of enthusiastic and friendly early-career researchers eager to connect with each other and find out about each others’ work. The atmosphere of the conference is especially good for those new to post-graduate academia, being populated mostly by PhD and Masters students presenting findings from their projects. It didn’t necessitate findings to be of use, however, several fascinating and hugely beneficial presentations put forward the initial plans and ideas of the project that the student was yet to embark upon. This allowed them to receive relevant advice, ideas and contact info for interested peers.

midterm emojisGareth explaining mental health through emojis (Photo: @Kim 24501)

The health geographies session was a great opportunity to connect and discuss our work with others in the field and showcased a wide range of topics, perspectives and methodologies which highlighted exciting and diverse research emerging in and around the geographies of health and wellbeing, including:

midterm1Farouk Umar (University of Sheffield) on healthcare in Kano (Photo: @PGF_RGSIBG)


Phil Emmerson (University of Birmingham) discussing laughter with care (Photo: @PGF_RGSIBG)

The keynote speakers were great, and the presenters friendly and welcoming, as were the informal networking meetings for the research groups which presented a great opportunity, again, for early career researchers to meet peers in their field. The delegates all engaged really positively with the work presented, although I’m generalising from the sessions I attended – and feedback was constructive, informative and helpful. Given the audience I actually edited my presentation the night before to take out some of the hard line quantitative visuals, and add some more relatable non-technical language, as an experiment to see if I could pull it off. It went down really well, and provided confidence for me going forward with presenting that kind of stuff. I’d really recommend being ambitious or trying something different with the presentations, as it is rare to get such a friendly and forgiving audience to trial ideas in front of!

On top of this, there are really helpful workshops run for early career researchers, including publishing, writing and data scrutiny courses. In fact, the only criticism of the whole would be the usual one with conferences, that because there are so many interesting sessions concurrently – you might not see all that you intended. I returned home with an interest and increased knowledge in topics including but not limited to: Guerilla Geographies, Community Housing Projects, Street Children, Zimbabwean food culture and British Somali FGM attitudes. Moreover, all the people who talked about these topics were chatty and willing to put up with my initial ignorance of their topic.

If it wasn’t already transparent – I’d definitely recommend the Midterm to any early career researcher looking to get a feel of the academic scope of geographical research, as well as scoring some presentation practice and meeting some wicked people along the way. GHWRG looks forward to seeing you there next year!