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Should medical humanities be a multidisciplinary or an interdisciplinary study?
  1. H M Evans,
  2. J Macnaughton
  1. Centre for Arts and Humanities in Health and Medicine, University of Durham
  1. Correspondence to:
 Prof H M Evans & Dr R J Macnaughton
 CAHHM, University of Durham, 14/15 Old Elvet, Durham DH1 3HP;;

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Research on interdisciplinarity is essential for the future of medical humanities

The forthcoming annual conference of the Association for Medical Humanities addresses the substantial topic “Medicine and the humanities: towards interdisciplinary practice”. The organisers envisage the following objectives for the conference:

  • to advance the debate about the practical benefits of medical humanities for clinical practice;

  • to focus on the interface between medicine, health care, and a range of humanities disciplines, and

  • to create a context in which professionals from a variety of backgrounds can exchange ideas and experiences.

These eminently practice-centred objectives require, of course, to be approached in the spirit of what we might call “interdisciplinary theory”, that is, theoretical reflection on interdisciplinarity. Interdisciplinarity is perhaps easier to claim than it is to demonstrate, and putatively interdisciplinary work frequently turns out to be merely multidisciplinary, in the sense of involving relatively disconnected contributions from different disciplines—contributions which, taken in isolation, exhibit no real trace of contact with any other discipline beyond their own. Too often one attends discussions that consist in a succession of speakers presenting essentially discipline based perspectives, with little or no genuinely crossdisciplinary dialogue among them. Medical humanities requires, however, that we attain more than this, for reasons including those that are set out below.

The forthcoming conference is, therefore, both timely and important; its objectives moreover are challenging. For instance, in considering “the interface between medicine, health care, and a range of humanities disciplines” we need to ask whether the interface is a single meeting point of all the disciplines involved or whether a number of different shared boundaries might be involved. Would those sharing a boundary all recognise it to be a boundary, and would they see it in the same terms, for instance, with curiosity, suspicion, lack of interest, bafflement, distaste? Do the …

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