Research Themes

The Centre’s vision is to create and sustain cultures and environments that enable health and well-being across the life course.

The Centre combines expertise from the humanities, social sciences, and medical sciences to address complex health challenges: the mental health of young people; the social needs of ageing populations; the emergence of new infections and antibiotic resistance; and the damaging effects of poverty, weakened support networks, and social isolation.  Recognising the need to engage more fully with communities, policy-makers, and practitioners in order to co-create the conditions for health and well-being, the Centre’s research aims to:

(a) determine how health and well-being are shaped by cultural contexts, environmental conditions, and social relations in the past and present; and

(b) extend the evidence base for cross-sectoral policies and interventions that help to create and sustain ‘healthy publics’.

Centre Themes

The four Centre Themes below mark areas where transformation of understandings, practice, and evidence-based activities are required.  Research strands overlap, but these themes facilitate research conversations, the development of collaborative projects, and recruitment strategies.  Bringing these themes together are a number of cross-cutting themes and challenges, which include questions around: change, transitions and agency; temporality; trust; and what counts as ‘good evidence’.

Centre Theme 1. Transforming institutions

Health and wellbeing are embedded within all manner of institutions. Most obviously they involve the institutions that are tasked with delivering health and social care – the homes, hospitals and welfare arrangements that make health possible. But more broadly, institutions can be understood as the ‘stuff of social life’, and include language, historical norms, gender relations and so on.

Transforming health and wellbeing is not something that we can expect people to do at an individual level. They will need to operate in broader landscapes that seek to transform how we care for people in later life; how medicine and healthcare practices are organized; how evidence is generated; and how evidence-based policies are made involving healthy publics.

Indicative topic areas include:

  • Transforming social and institutional care in later life
  • Transforming understandings of community and family and their roles in health and wellbeing
  • Transforming gender relations, and health, care and wellbeing
  • Histories and cultures of medicine
  • Research cultures – making research and evidence relevant for health and wellbeing
  • Understanding “big data” and communities
  • Approaches to national and international health governance

Centre Theme 2. Transforming publicly engaged research

Attempts to facilitate the emergence of healthy publics require, first, the involvement of those individuals and/or communities with lived experience of, expertise in, or a history of exclusion from the issues at hand. Second, it necessitates that the issues addressed are collective problems (i.e. how care is organized, how pollution is monitored, how stress is understood). By actively engaging we anticipate that the resulting collectives will generate new insights and knowledge that can challenge existing norms concerning health and wellbeing. In order to pursue these forms of engaged research we will co-create a bold vision for public engagement and engaged research and develop forms of participatory research practice.

Indicative topics being considered include:

  • Understanding the dynamics of engaging diverse publics and conducting engaged research
  • Developing ways of engaging spatially dispersed health publics
  • Creating the conditions for transformative public engagement
  • Living with knowledge surfeits, data deluges and trust deficits in terms of enabling and constraining healthy publics
  • Transdisciplinary approaches to sustaining engaged research over time

Centre Theme 3. Transforming relations

Health and wellbeing are seldom achieved alone or in isolation. Being healthy often requires carers, friends, professionals, and many others; and well-being involves a range of social relations. Perhaps less obviously, this health collective is not just about people. From the food we eat to the social conditions and environments in which we live, health is made through and with all manner of others. Recent conceptual reinvestments in epigenetics through to Planetary Health and One Health remind us that healthy publics are heterogeneous, marked by interplay of the molecular, the embodied, the social, cultural, environmental, and global. This wide cast of people, multiple objects of inquiry, frames of reference, relevant expertise, and forms of evidence pose challenges to the composition and sustainability of health.

Topics or foci for consideration include:

  • More than human health: ecosystem health and beyond
  • Biosocial and environmental interactions
  • Social and material relations and cultural engagement
  • Spatiality and topological approaches to health and well being
  • Opportunities and benefits, not just risks, to health and wellbeing
  • Technology and social relations
  • Interactions between global and local health

Centre Theme 4. Transforming health across the life course

Health and well-being are subject to the cumulative effects of experiences, environments, and other social and material relations that accrue over a life time.  At the same time, the life course is frequently inscribed with particular events, rites of passage, and other culturally inscribed milestones that affect how health is experienced and understood. Often termed crises or transitions, these culturally as well as biologically mediated moments require studies that are cultural as well biomedical. Transitions to old age, for example, may be as marked by social isolation as they are by alterations to our bodies. Early years and mid-life are as affected by cultural expectations and norms as they are by hormonal shifts.

Indicative topics for consideration include:

  • Temporality
  • Transitions and crises
  • Ageing
  • Gender
  • Identity
  • Social isolation and loneliness
  • Social and biological interactions across the life course.


Beacon: loneliness and community

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Woman writing on a whiteboard - the question is 'what's on your mind?'

Beacon: transforming evidence

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Notes scribbled on a tablecloth in different colours and hands

Beacon: big data publics

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RSF: Gender identity

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RSF: Are you sure?

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Oil painting of a white hen with five chickens

RSF: Protein pressures

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Women and children seated on the ground; one woman is writing on a large sheet of paper

RIA: Voices from Durgapur

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Coloured blocks of pastels in a compartmented box

RSF: Outsider art

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RSF: Devon Sustainable Food Networks

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RSF: Community well-being

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RSF: Compassionate care

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Children in traditional Peruvian costume

RSF: Risk and resilience

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RIA: Live Music Now

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TRA: Dance, health and well-being

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TRA: Cancer and close relationships

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UNESCO: The Lockdown Blues

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UNESCO: Creative Writing & Mental Health: East African Representations & Voices

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UNESCO: Welfare Sanctuary

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UNESCO: Quay Words

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Shame and Medicine

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The Beat of Our Hearts: Staging New Histories of LGBTQIA+ Loneliness

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