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Reflections on a field across time and space: the emergent medical and health humanities in South Africa
  1. Victoria Jane Hume1,
  2. Megan Wainwright2,3
  1. 1 WiSER, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
  2. 2 Division of Social and Behavioural Sciences, School of Public Health and Family Medicine, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
  3. 3 Department of Anthropology, University of Durham, Durham, UK
  1. Correspondence to Victoria Jane Hume, WiSER, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg 2000, South Africa; victoriahume{at}


In this paper, we draw on our own cross-cultural experience of engaging with different incarnations of the medical and health humanities (MHH) in the UK and South Africa to reflect on what is distinct and the same about MHH in these locations. MHH spaces, whether departments, programmes or networks, have espoused a common critique of biomedical dualism and reductionism, a celebration of qualitative evidence and the value of visual and performative arts for their research, therapeutic and transformative social potential. However, there have also been differences, and importantly a different ‘identity’ among some leading South African scholars and practitioners, who have felt that if MHH were to speak from the South as opposed to the North, they would say something quite different. We seek to contextualise our personal reflections on the development of the field in South Africa over recent years within wider debates about MHH in the context of South African academia and practice, drawing in part on interviews conducted by one of the authors with South African researchers and practitioners and our own reflections as ‘Northerners’ in the ‘South’.

  • South Africa
  • global medical humanities
  • critical medical humanities
  • health humanities
  • arts-in-health
  • interdisciplinarity

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  • Contributors This article was developed at two workshops, held at the Wits Institute of Socio-Economic Research (WiSER) at the University of the Witwatersrand in September 2017, and in Hermanus—hosted by the University of Cape Town—in September 2015, both convened in South Africa by the Medical and Health Humanities Africa Network.

  • Funding This study was funded by the South African National Research Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.