People siting in a circle talking

Critical Medical Humanities

The Critical Medical Humanities theme fosters interdisciplinary collaborative research which encompasses work in the humanities and social sciences concerned with the examination of health, illness, wellbeing and medicine and their practices, policies and politics.

The theme promotes collaborations within, across and beyond institutional contexts and recognises the potential of collaborative work to challenge and transform knowledge and methods. It seeks to open up alternative ways of engaging with health and medical, policies, knowledges controversies and debates along with the embodied, political, and lived experiences of illness, disability and practice.

Work in this theme covers a variety of research and topics, from art and social science collaborations, to law, activism and current health debates, incorporating historical and contemporary research and practice. The theme reflects the city of Liverpool and the University's long history of radical politics to inform policy and practice by bringing alternative and activist voices to the fore, recognising that expertise comes in many forms.

Theme objectives

  • To provide a creative space to develop interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary collaborative research in critical medical humanities.
  • To examine the political etiologies of (poor) health.
  • To provide space for alternative voices and ways of engaging with health and wellbeing.
  • To provide a forum for the development of local, national and international research collaborations.
  • To support the work of graduate and post graduate students working in related areas
  • To host seminars, conferences and conversations for an academic and public audience.
  • To open-up academic debates to the wider community and engage closely in outreach activities.


Dr Sean Columb: Trading Life: Organ Trafficking, Illicit Networks and Exploitation

Dr Bethan Evans: Flying While Fat

Professor Ciara Kierans: Re-thinking Entangled Relations: the case of Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Origin in Mexico: anthropological perspectives

Dr Georgia Petridou: De/Constructing the Body: Ancient and Modern Dynamics

Professor Sally Sheard: Governance of Health Research Group

Dr Nicole Vitellone, Dr Lena Theodoropoulou and Melanie Manchot (Artist in Residence): Rehearsing Recovery: piloting collective methods in recovery from drugs and alcohol’

Trading Life Book Cover

Dr Sean Columb: Trading Life: Organ Trafficking, Illicit Networks and Exploitation

Seán Columb is a Senior Lecturer in Law at the School of Law and Social Justice, University of Liverpool. His research interests include human trafficking, people smuggling, and transnational crime more generally. Seán's current research examines how the organ trade fits into the anti-trafficking framework, its link to organised crime and the wider political economy.

Associated publications

Columb, S. (2020). Trading Life: Organ Trafficking, Illicit Networks and Exploitation. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. Retrieved from

Columb, S. (2019). Organ trafficking in Egypt: ‘They locked me in and took my kidney’. [The Guardian]. Retrieved from

Columb, S. (2018). Organ Trafficking: Transplant Tourism and Trafficking in Persons for the Removal of Organs.

Columb, S. (2017). Excavating the Organ Trade: An Empirical Study of Organ Trading Networks in Cairo, Egypt. British Journal of Criminology, 57(6), 1301-1321. doi:10.1093/bjc/azw068

Columb, S. (2017). Disqualified Bodies: A Socio-legal Analysis of the Organ Trade in Cairo, Egypt. Law and Society Review, 51(2), 282-312. doi:10.1111/lasr.12269

Columb, S., Ambagtsheer, F., Bos, M., Ivanovski, N., Moorlock, G., Weimar, W., & Tourism, E. L. P. A. T. W. G. O. (2017). Re-conceptualizing the organ trade: separating "trafficking" from "trade" and the implications for law and policy. TRANSPLANT INTERNATIONAL, 30(2), 209-213. doi:10.1111/tri.12899

Columb, S., & Budiani-Saberi,, D. (2015). Trafficking in Persons for the Removal of Organs: A Human-Rights Approach. In New Cannibal Markets Globalisation and Commodification of the Human Body. Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l'homme, Paris.

Woman in an aircraft cabin reaching for the call button

Dr Bethan Evans: Flying While Fat

This project was a scholar-activist collaboration with activist and animator Stacy Bias. The project aimed to explore the lived experience of fat* airline passengers. Flying is uncomfortable for many people, but when the physical infrastructure of the plane doesn’t accommodate your body and/or the social attitudes of other passengers make the plane environment a hostile space, flying can be a particularly anxious thing to do. News stories often present fat passengers as unreasonably taking up space, as a problem for others, or dehumanise fat people akin to ‘excess baggage’. To challenge this, this project centred the voices and experiences of fat passengers. Methodologically, the research was based on 795 surveys and 28 in-depth interviews with people who identified as fat airline passengers.

Outputs to date include an animation, produced by Stacy Bias, launched as part of the Disability and Deaf Arts Festival (DaDaFest) along with a discussion about the intersections of fat and disabled people’s experiences, and the animation was displayed in the Bluecoat Gallery and Tate Liverpool. The first academic output reporting on the results of this project is forthcoming in Annals of the Association of American Geographers. This paper uses theory drawn from Leder’s (1990) work on Dys-appearnance, in conjunction with Ahmed’s work on bodily intensities (2004) and queer phenomenology (2006) along with work in disability studies to explore the ways in which the material and social spaces of the plane make fat bodies hyperpresent in ways that, for some, limit self-advocacy, whilst also setting this in broader political and economic contexts which frame fatness as problematic.

This project was part-funded by the University of Liverpool Knowledge Exchange fund

*In line with Fat Activism and Fat Studies, we use the term fat as a term that does not pathologise fat bodies in the way that more medicalised terms like obesity and overweight do.

Associated publications and visual material

Evans, B., Bias, S., & Colls, R. (forthcoming). The Dys-appearing Fat Body: Bodily Intensities and Fatphobic Sociomaterialities when Flying Whilst Fat. Annals of the Association of American Geographers. doi:10.1080/24694452.2020.1866485

Flying while fat animation

Publications from other ‘Fat Studies’ research

Evans, B., & Cooper, C. (2016). Reframing fatness: Critiquing 'obesity'. In The Edinburgh Companion to the Critical Medical Humanities (pp. 225-241).

Evans, B. (2014). Fat Studies. In W. C. Cockerham, R. Dingwall, & S. R. Quah (Eds.), Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Health, Illness, Behavior, and Society (pp. ?). Chichester: John Wiley and Sons Ltd. Retrieved from

Colls, R., & Evans, B. (2014). Making space for fat bodies?: A critical account of 'the obesogenic environment'. PROGRESS IN HUMAN GEOGRAPHY, 38(6), 733-753.

Monaghan, L. F., Colls, R., & Evans, B. (2013). Obesity discourse and fat politics: research, critique and interventions. Critical Public Health, 23(3), 249-262. doi:10.1080/09581596.2013.814312

Throsby, K., & Evans, B. (2013). ‘Must I seize every opportunity?’ Complicity, confrontation and the problem of researching (anti-) fatness. Critical Public Health, 23(3), 331-344. doi:10.1080/09581596.2013.802290

Evans, B., Crookes, L., & Coaffee, J. (2012). Obesity/Fatness and the City: Critical Urban Geographies. Geography Compass, 6(2), 100-110. doi:10.1111/j.1749-8198.2011.00469.x

Evans, B. (2012). The Energy Glut: The politics of fatness in an overheating world. Unknown Journal, 21(2), 334-336.

Evans, B. (2010). Anticipating fatness: childhood, affect and the pre-emptive ’war on obesity’. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 35(1), 21-38. doi:10.1111/j.1475-5661.2009.00363.x

Lake Chapala

Professor Ciara Kierans: Re-thinking Entangled Relations: the case of Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Origin in Mexico: anthropological perspectives

Focusing on the biosocial conditions of disease emergence, this work draws together thinking at the intersections of health, political economy and the environment.

It centres on the growing and unexplained problem of failing kidneys throughout the global south, otherwise known as Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Origin (CKDu). CKDu possesses a different aetiological narrative than established CKD. It is not an outcome of hypertension or diabetes, for example, but bound to conditions of political economic, social and environmental change. CKDu positions the kidney as an ‘organ of the anthropogenic’ – one in perpetual relation with local ecologies. CKDu is primarily associated with the degraded labour conditions of agri-industries (e.g. sugarcane, rice and nut production) as well as temperature increases linked to climate change.

Professor Kieran’s work in Mexico focuses on the rise of the condition in the context of environmental harm, poverty and systemic social marginalisation. Her fieldwork is located among the communities who live in the municipality of Poncitlán on the shores of Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest lake and one of the most polluted water systems in Latin America.

(Funding: Wellcome Trust and GCRF: AHRC)

Associated publications

Kierans C. and Padilla C. (2020). Describing Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Origin: anthropological noticing and the ‘residual’ category (2020). Qualitative Research, (Special Issue Thinking with Description

Kierans, C. (2019) Chronic Failures: Kidneys, Regimes of Care and the Mexican State Rutgers University Press

Kierans, C. (2018) The Intimate Uncertainties of Kidney Care: Moral Economy and Treatment Regimes in Comparative Perspective, Anthropological Journal of European Cultures, 27 (2):65-84

Kierans, C. (2017) “Renal Care in an Unequal World: Anthropological Reflections.” In G. Garcia-Garcia, K. Agadoa & K. Norris (Eds), Chronic Kidney Disease in Disadvantaged Populations. USA: Academic Press. (pp. 263-271).

Kierans, C. (2017) Valued Matter: Anthropological Insights on the (Bio)political Economy of Organ Exchange In R. Shaw (Ed) Bioethics Beyond Altruism: Donating and Transforming Human Biological Materials (pp. 265-288). Palgrave MacMillan

Kierans, C. (2015) Biopolitics and Capital: Poverty, Mobility and the Body-in Transplantation in Mexico. Body and Society, 21(3):42-65.

Mercado-Martinez, F.J., Ibarra-Hernández, E., Asencio-Mera, C.D., Diaz-Medina, B.A., Padilla-Altamira, C. & Kierans, C. (2014). Viviendo con Trasplante Renal, Sin Protección Social en Salud. ¿Qué Dicen los Enfermos sobre las Dificultades Económicas que Enfrentan y sus Efectos? Cadernos de Saúde Pública 30(10): 2092-2100.

Leonardo da Vinci principle organs

Leonardo da Vinci, The principal organs and arterial system of a woman, c. 1508, ink and chalk on paper, 189 × 333 mm, RL 12281r, from the Royal Collection. Source: Wikipedia Commons

Dr Georgia Petridou: De/Constructing the Body: Ancient and Modern Dynamics

Dr Petridou is the PI of De/Constructing the Body: Ancient and Modern Dynamics, a project funded by the Wellcome Trust and co-directed by Prof. Esther Eidinow (University of Bristol). The project targets bodily fragmentation, fusion, and trans-formation. The researchers argue that there is a greater fluidity than has often been realised in the signification processes and the signifying agents that define physical and imagined frontiers in the human body – such as patients, bodies, body parts, dead bodies, medical scientists, nurses, religious professionals and entrepreneurs, medical insurance policies, medical technology and biopolitics. The aim of the project is to create a robust network of collaborators who will challenge the compartmentalisation of bodily knowledge and disputes and engage more effectively with culture-specific health debates and policies.

Other current research projects and collaborations of Dr Petridou evolve around the fields of socio-anthropology of pain and pain history, disability studies and the Classical body, the ‘lived body’, and the culture-specific conceptions and elaborations of the body.

Associated publications

(2021) ‘‘There is a pain - so utter – ̓ Narrating Chronic Pain and Disability in antiquity and modernity’, in E. Adams (ed), The Forgotten Other: Disability Studies And The Classical Body, Routledge. (in press)

(2020) ‘The ‘Lived’ Body in Pain. Illness and Initiation in Lucian’s Podagra and Aelius Aristides’ Hieroi Logoi’, in V. Gasparini, M. Patzelt, R. Raja, A-K. Rieger, J. Rüpke, and E. Urciuoli (eds.), Lived Religion in the Ancient Mediterranean World, DeGruyter, 237-259.

(2019) ‘The curious case of Aelius Aristides. The author as sufferer and illness as “individualizing motif”, in Eve-Marie Becker and Jörg Rüpke (eds), Autoren in religiösen literarischen Texten der späthellenistischen und der frühkaiserzeitlichen Welt. Zwölf Fallstudien, Mohr Siebeck, 199-219.

(2019) ‘Literary Therapies and Rhetorical Prescriptions in Aelius Aristides: Medical Paradoxography or Common Practice?’, in: G. Kazantzidis (ed.), Medicine and Paradoxography in the Ancient World, De Gruyter, series Trends in Classics 10, 183-197.

(2018) ‘Laughing Matters: Chronic Pain and Bodily Fragmentation in Lucian's Podagra', Illinois Classical Studies 43, 488-506.

(2017) Embodying Religion: Lived Ancient Religion and the Body, guest-editor of Religion of the Roman Empire 3.2.

(2017) ‘What is divine about medicine? Mysteric imagery and bodily knowledge in the Second Sophistic’, Religion in the Roman Empire 3.2, 242-264.

(2017) ‘Speaking Louder with the Eyes: Eye-shaped Ex-Votos in Context’, Religion in the Roman Empire 2.3, 372-390.

(2017) ‘Poésie pour l'esprit, rhétorique pour le corps: Remèdes littéraires et cautions épistolaires dans les Hieroi Logoi d’Aelius Aristide’, Mètis 15, 69-94.

(2017) ‘Demeter as an ophthalmologist? Eye-shaped votives and the cults of Demeter and Kore’, in J. Draycott and E.-J. Graham (eds.), Bodies of Evidence: Ancient Anatomical Votives Past, Present and Future, Routledge, 95-111.

(2017) ‘Contesting Religious and Medical Expertise in the Hieroi Logoi: The therapeutai of Pergamum as religious and medical entrepreneurs’, in Beyond Priesthood: Religious Entrepreneurs and Innovators in the Roman Empire, eds. R. L. Gordon, G. Petridou and J. Rüpke, De Gruyter, 183-208.

(2016) Homo Patiens: Approaches to the Patient in the Ancient world, Brill, Studies in Ancient Medicine 45 (co-edited with Ch. Thumiger).

(2016) ‘Introduction: Towards a History of the Ancient Patient’s View’ (co-authored with Ch. Thumiger), in G. Petridou and Ch. Thumiger (eds.), Homo Patiens: Approaches to Patient in the Ancient World, 1-20.

(2016) ‘Healing Shrines’ (Asclepius and others; including healing miracles at Christian shrines) in G. Irby (ed.), Companion to Greek Science, Medicine, and Technology, Wiley – Blackwell, 434-449.

(2016) ‘Aelius Aristides as informed patient’, in G. Petridou and Ch. Thumiger (eds.), Homo Patiens: Approaches to Patient in the Ancient World, 451-470.

Sally Sheard

Professor Sally Sheard: Governance of Health Research Group

Sally Sheard holds a Wellcome Senior Investigator Award (2015-22) that supports her Governance of Health research group. Their research focuses on the medical, managerial and economics expertise used in the creation of British health policy since 1948.

Linked case studies focus on local health governance in the Mersey Region, the development of NIHR and NICE. Sally also leads associated projects on the development of public health genomics (funded by the Public Health Genomics Foundation) and Covid-19 policy dynamics (funded by UKRI/MRC, and in collaboration with University of Oxford).’

Selected publications:

Sheard, ‘Cleanliness costs: the evolving relationship between infection and length of stay in antibiotic era hospitals’ in A.M. Rafferty and M. Dupree (eds), Germs and Governance: the past present and future of hospital infection, prevention and control(forthcoming: MUP, 2021).

Sheard, ‘Space, Place and (Waiting) Time: reflections on health policy and politics’,Health Economics, Policy and Law, (2018) 13 (3-4): 226-250. DOI: 10.1017/S1744133117000366.

Atkinson, P., Gobat, N., Lant, S., Mableson, H., Pilbeam, C., Solomon, T., Tonkin-Crine, S., Sheard, S., Understanding the policy dynamics of COVID-19 in the UK: early findings from interviews with policy makers and health care professionals, Social Science & Medicine (2020)

P. Begley and S. Sheard, ‘McKinsey and the ‘Tripartite Monster’: the role of management consultants in the 1974 NHS reorganisation’, Medical History (2019); 63, 4:390-410. DOI: 10.1017/mdh.2019.41.

P. Atkinson, S. Sheard and T. Walley, ‘”All the Stars were aligned”? The origins of England’s National Institute for Health Research’, Health Research Policy and Systems, December 2019 17:95.

E. Mackillop and S. Sheard, ‘Quantifying life: Understanding the history of Quality-Adjusted Life Years (QALYs)’, Social Science and Medicine 211 (2018); 359-366. DOI: 10.1016/ j.socscimed.2018.07.004.


Actor standing on a stage

Dr Nicole Vitellone, Dr Lena Theodoropoulou and Melanie Manchot (Artist in Residence): Rehearsing Recovery: piloting collective methods in recovery from drugs and alcohol’

‘Rehearsing Recovery: piloting collective methods in the recovery from drugs and alcohol’ is an interdisciplinary research collaboration between Dr Nicole Vitellone, Dr Lena Theodoropoulou, Liverpool Biennial and filmmaker and artist Melanie Manchot. The project, supported by seed funding from the Northern Network for Medical Humanities Research and UoL examines the contribution of film as a research method in the medical and health humanities. The aims of this pilot study are to a) engage the practice of filmmaking as a creative method of recovery, b) evaluate the methodological impact of film with recovery workers and service users and c) establish interdisciplinary collaborative networks between academic researchers, art institutions and service-providers for the purpose of recovery research.

The study follows the involvement of people in recovery from drugs and alcohol with the production, post-production and dissemination of 'STEPHEN', a featured film exploring the struggles associated with addiction and recovery as well as the potential for transformation, directed by the artist and filmmaker Melanie Manchot and commissioned by Liverpool Biennial. By following our participants through this process, we are looking into how the camera can inform new ways of talking about addiction and recovery; ways that go beyond talking therapy and structured recovery groups. By making the camera the organising principle around which creative practices revolve, will inquire the camera’s presence as a device that facilitates connections and how this might support on-going, longer term processes of recovery and policy making. 

Associated publications

Theodoropoulou L., Manchot M., Vitellone N. 2020 ‘Interrupted connections: social distancing and the risk of relapse for people in recovery from drugs and alcohol’, Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences of Health, Medicine and Technology,

Vitellone N., Manchot M., Theodoropoulou L. 2022 ‘Minor Practices in recovery from addictions: experimenting with collaborative filmmaking’, Special Section ‘Practising Recovery: New approaches and policy directions’ edited by Vitellone, N., Theodoropoulou, L. and Duff, C. International Journal of Drug Policy [in preparation]

Vitellone, N. 2021. ‘Sociology and the problem of description’, Qualitative Research, Special issue on ‘Doing Things with Description: politics, practice and the art of attentiveness’ [Online First 10/12/20]

Vitellone, N. 2017. Social Science of the Syringe, London and New York: Routledge (Sociology of Health and Illness series)

Vitellone, N. 2018 'Situating the Syringe'. International Journal of Drug Policy. 61: 62-65.

Theodoropoulou, L. 2021. Becoming with care in drug treatment services: the Recovery Assemblage, London and New York: Routledge (Sociology of Health and Illness series) [forthcoming]

Theodoropoulou, L., 2020 ‘Describing recovery from drugs and alcohol: how ‘small’ practices of care matter’, Qualitative Research, Special issue on ‘Doing Things with Description: politics, practice and the art of attentiveness’ [Online First 10/12/20]

Theodoropoulou, L., 2020 ‘Connections built and broken: the ontologies of relapse’, International Journal of Drug Policy, Special issue on ‘The Ontopolitics of drugs and drug policies’, [Online First 07/04/20].

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