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Embodied Symptoms 

Led by Professor Jane Macnaughton

How do we become aware of the feeling that something is ‘wrong’ with our body? How do we decide whether or not to seek help for this new experience? Seeking help transforms this feeling into a ‘symptom’ to be described in clinical terms and implies an underlying problem that may need treatment.  

This research theme explores the process by which symptoms come into being from embodied awareness, through social expression to clinical expression, and seeks to understand how they are given meaning in the everyday world and in the clinic.

It addresses the difficulties of describing and articulating corporeal symptoms, the tensions between classification and understanding experiences, and the often-invisible pressures and strictures of social, cultural and medical models.  

Key projects and areas of research in Embodied Symptoms include:  


Led by Jane Macnaughton, We Need to Talk About the Menopause explores changing treatments, clinical and societal attitudes towards menopause, and examines this experience through the lenses of theory and activism, focusing on medicalisation, feminism and ageism. In Moving through Menopause led by Cassandra Phoenix, our researchers are using qualitative methods and creative, arts-based approaches to explore how women’s often hidden embodied experiences of menopause (including early- and perimenopause) affect their movement practices.


Epistemology and post-Covid 

Image used for strand pageIn a collaboration with the Centre for Medical Humanities and Bioethics at Linkoping University, we are combining approaches from the humanities, social sciences, clinical medicine and neuroscience to develop a better understanding of post-Covid syndrome (i.e. Long Covid) as a biomedical, clinical, socio-political and embodied phenomenon. We seek to develop a meta-epistemological framework for interdisciplinary health research and healthcare policy work, focused on post-Covid syndrome.



Disability and measurement 

Cropped image for strands pageOur researchers are exploring how measurements, and their manipulation, have been underestimated as historical forces motivating and guiding the way we think about experiences that are invisible or hard to articulate, including disability. Recent work from Coreen McGuire has shed light on the implicit connections between technology, biometrics and disability in the interwar period. Her new project, When Categories Constrain Care: Investigating Social Categories in Health Norms through Disability History 1909–1958, combines insights from disability history and history of science to explore how the categories we view as integral to health assessments (e.g., height, weight and sex) were constructed, and how they have influenced subsequent provision and compensation for the disabled.

Life of Breath (2015–2020) 

Image used for strand pageLife of Breath was an interdisciplinary research project on breath and breathlessness led by Jane Macnaughton (Durham University) and Havi Carel (Bristol University). It brought together researchers from different disciplines, healthcare professionals, charities, people affected by lung disease, and people who use their breath in interesting ways (e.g. musicians) to find new ways of answering questions about breathing and breathlessness and their relationship to illness and wellbeing.  



Explore research and activity in this strand: 

Fuller, D., Saunders, C., Macnaughton, J.(eds.). (2021) The Life of Breath in Literature, Culture and Medicine: Classical to Contemporary. Palgrave Macmillan. 

McGuire, Coreen (2020). Measuring difference, numbering normal: Setting the standards for disability in the interwar period. Manchester: Manchester University Press. 

Yoeli, Heather, Jane Macnaughton, and Sarah McLusky (2021). "Menopausal symptoms and work: A narrative review of women's experiences in casual, informal, or precarious jobs." Maturitas 150: 14-21. 

More than a medical symptom: the need for holistic care of breathlessness’ – A summary of Life of Breath’s findings and policy recommendations for PolicyBristol. 

Catch Your Breath – An online exhibition exploring breath and breathlessness informed by Life of Breath research.