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Disrupted breath, songlines of breathlessness: an interdisciplinary response
  1. Alice Malpass1,
  2. James Dodd2,
  3. Gene Feder1,
  4. Jane Macnaughton3,
  5. Arthur Rose4,
  6. Oriana Walker5,
  7. Tina Williams6,
  8. Havi Carel6
  1. 1 Centre for Academic Primary Care, Population Health Sciences, Bristol Medical School, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK
  2. 2 Academic Respiratory Unit, University of Bristol, Southmead Hospital, Bristol, UK
  3. 3 Centre for Medical Humanities, School of Medicine, Durham University, Durham, UK
  4. 4 Department of English, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK
  5. 5 Berlin Center for the History of Knowledge and Humboldt University, Philosophische Fakultät, Institut für Geschichtswissenschaften, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany
  6. 6 Department of Philosophy, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Alice Malpass, Centre for Academic Primary Care, Population Health Sciences, Bristol Medical School, University of Bristol, Bristol BS8 1TH, UK; a.malpass{at}


Health research is often bounded by disciplinary expertise. While cross-disciplinary collaborations are often forged, the analysis of data which draws on more than one discipline at the same time is underexplored. Life of Breath, a 5-year project funded by the Wellcome Trust to understand the clinical, historical and cultural phenomenology of the breath and breathlessness, brings together an interdisciplinary team, including medical humanities scholars, respiratory clinicians, medical anthropologists, medical historians, cultural theorists, artists and philosophers. While individual members of the Life of Breath team come together to share ongoing work, collaborate and learn from each other’s approach, we also had the ambition to explore the feasibility of integrating our approaches in a shared response to the same piece of textual data. In this article, we present our pluralistic, interdisciplinary analysis of an excerpt from a single cognitive interview transcript with a patient with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. We discuss the variation in the responses and interpretations of the data, why research into breathlessness may particularly benefit from an interdisciplinary approach, and the wider implications of the findings for interdisciplinary research within health and medicine.

  • sciencehumanities
  • breathlessness
  • inter-disciplinary

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  • Contributors All authors responded to the data from their disciplinary perspective. The lead author wrote the first draft with comments by coauthors.

  • Funding This study was funded by the Wellcome Trust (grant no. 103340).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval NRES Ethics approval was granted 10 November 2015 (Research Ethics Committee Reference: 15/EM/0478).

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

  • Data availability statement Data are available on reasonable request.