‘Queuing for Britain: What are we Waiting For?’ by Laura Salisbury and Lisa Baraitser

Britain may be less united in mourning the death of the Queen than portions of the media would like to suggest, but somehow the epic queue to file past her coffin mattered. The Queue was a sign of national grief, we were told. Its orderly length was peak Britishness. The Queue represented an urge to feel part of history being made. The Queue was a spectacle that was consciously being managed to produce the feeling of a nation united.

People tutted at celebrities who appeared to have jumped the Queue, or praised the levelling effect of a structure that forced David Beckham to wait with all the other ‘subjects’. Other voices pointed out that standing in line for over a day to pay one’s respects to a figurehead whose riches were literally (and strategically) untold, is a deeply ambiguous expression of equality.

Maybe what mattered most about the Queue to see Queen Elizabeth II lying-in-state, though, was its representation of a form of benign waiting. The Queue evoked an atmosphere of sacrifice and service that drew together the monarch and ‘her people’ under a sense of continuity and tradition that seemed to mean something to many. The Queue also looked, and seemed to feel, like a glimpse of a sense of community, half imagined, half real but passed over, where people would ‘look after’ each other. Although queuing is an ordering structure based on very strict hierarchies, people spoke of putting others’ needs – for snacks or clothing or cheery conversation – temporarily ahead of themselves.

We are told, over and again, that our contemporary society of instant access and 24-7 availability means that we no longer know how to wait. In the Queue, however, we had a representation of patience returned to its etymological root of endurance, even suffering. Although religious practices structured by waiting for deliverance and a better world to come have lost much of their force in a more secular society, the Queue to see a figurehead who was, anachronistically, both the Head of State and of the Church of England, echoed with religious and spiritual affects, if not necessarily always with their beliefs.

Of course, the idea that late stage capitalism means that we have lost our ability to wait is grimly contradicted by the reality of contemporary Britain.[1] As NHS waiting lists for elective surgery are at record levels and everyday bits of care like seeing (or speaking to) a GP or dentist become tests of endurance, waiting is a grinding reality for most. People in the gig economy lead working lives structured by frenetic activity and periods of unpaid inactivity, as they wait to service the demands of other people’s clocks.[2] People wait, pedalling on hamster wheels of maddening bureaucracy, for care packages delivered by hollowed-out, contracted-out services that councils are no longer resourced to afford.[3] People wait to find out if they can survive the coming winter.

One thing the Queue made clear is that waiting – the long and painful experience of extended time that does not pass – can be transfigured into a more manageable state by a belief that what we are waiting for will, in the end, be delivered. Waiting is also structured and managed by narratives that shape experiences of suffering into ideas of sacrifice. People can wait and endure in the name of something they understand to have an importance that reaches beyond the themselves. People can wait for the idea of the service of the Queen that her lying-in-state represents. People waited to ‘Protect the NHS’ during the COVID lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 beyond what most behavioural scientists advised was possible at the beginning of the pandemic.[4] And as we learned during lockdown, time that does not pass easily is made more bearable when waiting becomes a shared, collective practice, and the overarching waiting for of a grand project is grounded and made possible through small, everyday caring acts of waiting with others.[5]

One might accurately read the Queue as structure that manages and disciplines the time of a period of mourning, producing the optics of a sense of historical continuity with the institutions and practices the Queen represented. But in terms of what Raymond Williams named ‘structures of feeling’,[6] the culture of the Queue also evoked affects of collectivity, service, and even the ambiguous equality of being a ‘subject’ that reached beyond our current times and the capitalist structures that have penetrated most aspects of British life.

Other feelings are available, of course, despite some of the crude attempts to police them. For many, the British monarch’s death represented a moment when the reality of the violence of Empire must be faced, alongside the extractivism on which capitalism, inextricably bound to colonialism, has fed and through which it continues to flourish. Not all waiting is benign. As historian Dipesh Chakrabarty has described it, colonised nations were forced into the waiting room of history while British interests were served.[7] Martin Luther King also insisted that suggestions that Black Americans should wait a little longer for emancipation would not do when ‘“Wait” has almost always meant “Never”’.[8] As those living on with the consequences of colonisation know all too well, being asked to wait when lives might be preserved by being attended to, or being asked to wait in pain while the resources to alleviate it are being withheld or funnelled elsewhere, is political violence.

Waiting in and for the NHS tells us much about the violence of waiting, but it also tells us about possibilities for something else – possibilities for care.[9] Since its inception, there have been concerns about waiting times in the NHS as they became the explicit responsibility of the State. In the early decades of the NHS, new technologies like appointment systems were introduced to rid GP practices of queues that sometimes stretched well out of the door. Appointment systems, which might also have been used to manage the current Queue, were introduced to take care of the doctors’ time first, and then the patients’, producing more timely access to care and fewer working hours lost.[10]

It was during the 1980s and 90s that long waiting times became a specific marker of failure in the NHS. In the period defined by so-called ‘Targets and Terror’, little was left of the shared post-war idea that there was a benign or necessary form of waiting, say, for spectacles or false teeth, as the new NHS slowly repaired the damage to the nation’s health produced by previous unequal access to treatment.[11] Instead, as the historian of the queue, Joe Moran, has argued, by the 1970s and 1980s queueing was associated with faltering communist regimes. It was no coincidence that the iconic Saatchi and Saatchi poster campaign commissioned by the Conservative Party in 1978 and 1979 used an image of a queue to represent the ruling government’s failed socialism. The queue meant, simply, ‘Labour isn’t working’.[12]

But in the early years of the NHS, for many British citizens waiting in a queue for healthcare was a scene of possibility and change. To be waiting meant that you were now a patient of the NHS who would, in the end, be seen, rather than someone who could never afford to call the doctor out. The queue, whether literal or in the form of a waiting list, signalled a form of care that aimed to manage need rather than to service the ability to pay.[13] And new structures of feeling and identifications slowly emerged in which there was an NHS to wait for, albeit a highly imperfect one, and others to wait with.[14]

This NHS could not have been built and staffed without the labour of British ‘subjects’ from decolonised and decolonising nations.[15] Indeed, the wealth to provide a Welfare State at all in the UK was born over centuries from industries thoroughly dependent on Empire. Nevertheless, being asked to wait and even to queue for the NHS, and the Welfare State more broadly, produced something progressive that is worth holding on to. Waiting did not simply mean ‘never’; instead, it was structured by a collective sense of ‘looking after’ others who had been placed ahead by a service that aimed to allocate care according to need. If a commitment to care and the allocation of resources is to be genuinely underpinned by principles of justice and equality, which would include attending to the injustices of the past and the present and taking care of the future, then the process of ‘looking after’ will require renewed forms of collective action. But it will likely also require new forms of collective waiting, of holding back, perhaps even of queueing. Instead of imagining that waiting must always be reduced through processes of restructuring, privatising, and the delivery of services for profit under the pressures of market forces, perhaps we might use some of the structures of feeling that underpin the capacity to wait to prioritise a collective commitment to care, service, and to justice. That would surely be worth waiting for.

 

Laura Salisbury and Lisa Baraitser.

18 September, 2022.

 

 

[1] Lisa Baraitser, Enduring Time (London: Bloomsbury, 2017).

[2] Sarah Sharma, In the Meantime: Temporality and Cultural Politics (Durham: Duke UP, 2014).

[3] For an account of this dynamic that has only intensified in the last decade, see Ivor Southwood, Non-Stop Inertia (London: Zero Books, 2011).

[4] Ulrike Hahn et al, ‘Why a Group of Behavioural Scientists Penned an Open Letter to the U.K. Government Questioning Its Coronavirus Response’, Behavioural Scientist, 16 March 2020

[5] Lisa Baraitser and Laura Salisbury, ‘Containment, Delay, Mitigation: Waiting and Care in the Time of a Pandemic’Waiting and Care in Pandemic Times, Wellcome Open Research, 2020.

[6] Raymond Williams, ‘Culture is Ordinary’, (1958), Resources of Hope: Culture, Democracy, Socialism (London: Verso, 1989), pp.

[7] Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), p. 8.

[8] Martin Luther King, Why We Can’t Wait, (1964) (London: Penguin, 2018), p. 91.

[9] See Lisa Baraitser and William Brook, ‘Watchful Waiting: Temporalities of crisis and care in the UK National Health Service’, Vulnerability and the Politics of Care: Transdisciplinary Dialogues, ed. Victoria Browne (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020).

[10] Martin D Moore, ‘Waiting for the Doctor: Managing Time and Emotion in the British National Health Service, 1948–80’, Twentieth Century British History, 33, 2, (2022), pp. 203–229

[11] With thanks to Martin D Moore for this point.

[12] Joe Moran, ‘Queuing up in Post-War Britain’, Twentieth Century British History, 16, 3, (2005), 283-305.

[13] Martin D Moore, ‘Waiting for the Doctor: Managing Time and Emotion in the British National Health Service’, 1948–80. Twentieth Century British History, 33,2 (2022), pp. 203-229.

[14] See, Mathew Thomson, ‘The NHS and the Public: A Historical Perspective’, https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/blog/2017/10/nhs-and-public-historical-perspective

[15] See Roberta Bivins, ‘Picturing Race in the British National Health Service 1948-1988’, Twentieth Century British History, 28, 1, (2017).

 

New Thinking: Waiting. A conversation with Dr Michael Flexer and Professor Victoria Tischler

Waiting is an inevitable part of life, whether it’s in the waiting room of a GP surgery or waiting for lockdown to end.

As part of the Waiting Times project, Dr Michael Flexer, a publicly engaged research fellow at the University of Exeter, explores different concepts of waiting and suggests that some forms of waiting – for seeds to grow, for the curtain to rise in a theatre – can be positive. https://WhatAreYouWaitingFor.org.uk

Professor Victoria Tischler is from the European Centre for Environment & Human Health at the University of Exeter and co-investigator of the Pandemic and Beyond project. During lockdown her project Culture Box sent out packages to care home residents filled with activities: watercolour paints, seeds, guides to birdsong. She shares her thoughts on how these activities changed the recipients’ relationship to time. https://pandemicandbeyond.exeter.ac.uk/

This episode was made in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council, part of UKRI. You can find a collection of episodes focused on New Research on the Free Thinking programme website on BBC Radio 3.

Producer: Tim Bano

 

Listen on BBC Radio 3

Swati Joshi, ‘Proprioceptive Care and the work of Samuel Beckett’. Monday 18th July 2022

Swati Joshi, a Doctoral Fellow of Medical Humanities at the Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar will give a talk ‘Proprioceptive Care and the work of Samuel Beckett’ at the University of Exeter.

1-2pm, Monday 18th July,
Board Room, Wellcome Centre for the Cultures and Environments of Health
University of Exeter

or online

Join Zoom Meeting
https://Universityofexeter.zoom.us/j/94643708069?pwd=eW1sRU8wbzhGOW03cEdJeVVxYzBRQT09

Meeting ID: 946 4370 8069
Password: 971968

 

 

 

Parapraxis Conversations: On The Maternal. 9-10th July 2022

A Conversation on “The Maternal.” Part of a recurring lecture series centered on keywords in psychosocial thought.

Join The Psychosocial Foundation and Parapraxis for a conversation on “The Maternal” with Dr. Joy James, Dr. Lisa Baraitser, and Dr. Sarah Knott. Moderated by Dr. Hannah Zeavin.

Tickets are sliding-scale. Your contributions fund our continued work at The Psychosocial Foundation, including Parapraxis Magazine. To learn more about the whole series, click here. To learn more about Parapraxis , click here.

Date and time:

Sat, Jul 9, 2022, 6:00 PM –

Sun, Jul 10, 2022, 7:30 AM BST

Location:

Online event

Book Tickets 

Acland Burghley School’s Workshop in collaboration with Sally Booth, Peltz Gallery and Waiting Times project

 

A few weeks back I had the amazing opportunity to go into Acland Burghley School for a collaboration between the Peltz Gallery, The Waiting Times Project, artist Sally Booth, and a group of year 11 students in the art classes. The goal was to begin an early relationship with the school in the hopes to do a great deal more collaboration in the future. Overall it was quite a success! To tie into the current Time Being exhibit at the Peltz and the larger theme of the Waiting Times project we asked Sally Booth to come in a craft a workshop for the students. Over a 4 hour workshop we spoke with the students about the Peltz and when they could come to the exhibit, gave an overview of the exhibit Time Being and a rundown on what Waiting Times was researching around themes of waiting and care. After Sally introduced herself and her work and talked the students through her process as an artist and the ways she has learned to navigate the world, we moved into the project for the day. The work Sally did with the students was to create concertina pieces where they collaborated in pairs to build their work. Here began a great discussion with the students on the ideas around waiting and care and what it meant for them to wait and how to look forward. Questions came up such as when have you had to wait? When have you had to be patient and resilient? Waiting for appointments, for a birthday, to go on holiday, to go out,  to see their friends, waiting for COVID to end?  What do you look forward to? A special place? To be more independent? To go somewhere new, to do something fun? Jumping off from this chat we quickly lead the students into work to settle on a theme for their concertina piece. Students found a multitude of ways to pick a time they had to wait and to work that into the piece they were creating while also finding ways to collaborate that piece with a partner. Some ideas they crafted were waiting for public transit, a groom waiting for his bride, a pig waiting for slaughter, a bird waiting to take flight, and waiting for family to visit. At the end of the session, the students grouped all their concertina pieces together and curated a layout that wrapped around the room with their beautiful work. Before leaving the students were encouraged to come to the exhibit and sit more with the themes of the project. Peltz is hoping to collaborate further with the art team at Acland Burghley, to continue doing workshops of this type, and to hopefully host a small student exhibit in the near future. Please enjoy some of the students’ pieces and check out the Time Being exhibit running at the Peltz Gallery. 

Emily Jewison, School of Art, Birkbeck, University of London

Lisa Baraitser on ‘Care, Hate, Gender: Revisiting the case of Harold Shipman’. The Roots of Misogyny, A Psychoanalytic Conference. Saturday 22nd January 2022

The Political Mind Presents: The Roots of Misogyny
 A Psychoanalytic Conference
Saturday 22nd January 2022
10.00am – 4:30pm  
These discussions will be delivered remotely via Zoom.
 
Recording available*
 
This is a psychoanalytic conference exploring developmental and psycho-social perspectives on misogyny. We will discuss the emergence of hatred and violent persecution of women, linking its origins in the crucible of the family with its manifestations in wider society. 
 
We hope to provide insight into the extremes of the uncivilised psyche. This special event day will include people from a wide range of disciplines. 


Chair:

Ruth McCall is a Fellow of the British Psychoanalytical Society, supervisor and training psychotherapist for several British psychoanalytic psychotherapy trainings and past tutor for MSc in Psychoanalytic Studies, UCL. She has a special interest in hysteria and psychosomatic disorders, and lectures on Freud and Winnicott’s work.

Speakers:

Renee Danziger is a psychoanalyst in private practice. She is a Fellow of the British Psychoanalytical Society, and an Honorary Senior Lecturer at UCL. She has a DPhil in politics, and a particular interest in the application of psychoanalytic theory to social and political issues. She is the author of Radical Revenge: Shame, Blame, and the Urge for Retaliation. Free Association Books (2021).

Dr Susie Orbach is a psychotherapist, psychoanalyst, writer and co-founder of The Women’s Therapy Centre in London (1976) and The WTCI in New York (1981).
Susie is the author of twelve books. Her most recent In Therapy: The Unfolding Story is an annotated version of the BBC Radio 4 series. Her first book Fat is a Feminist Issue has been continuously in print since 1978. Bodies (which won the APA Psychology of Women’s Book Prize in 2009) was updated in 2019. She has published many papers and frequently writes articles for the press, and wrote a Guardian column for ten years.
She has a strong interest in social policy and co-authored recent government-commissioned reports and has also been a member of government expert panels.
She was Visiting Professor of Psychoanalysis and Social Policy at the London School of Economics for ten years. Susie is the recipient of the Inaugural British Psychoanalytic Council’s Lifetime Achievement Award. She was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (FRSL) in 2019.

Prof Lisa Baraitser is Professor of Psychosocial Theory at Birkbeck, University of London, and a psychoanalyst and member of the British Psychoanalytical Society. She is author of the award-winning monograph, Maternal Encounters: The Ethics of Interruption (Routledge, 2009) and Enduring Time (Bloomsbury, 2017). She currently holds a collaborative award from the Wellcome Trust for a 5-year cycle of research, Waiting Times, that investigates the relationship between time and healthcare.

Jacob Johanssen is Senior Lecturer in Communications, St. Mary’s University (London, UK). He is the author of Psychoanalysis and Digital Culture: Audiences, Social Media, and Big Data (Routledge, 2019). His research interests include psychoanalysis and digital media, audience research, sexuality and digital media, affect theories, psychosocial studies, and critical theory. His second monograph Fantasy, Online Misogyny and the Manosphere: Male Bodies of Dis/Inhibition is forthcoming with Routledge. He is Co-Editor of the Counterspace section of the journal Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society. Jacob is a Founder Scholar of the British Psychoanalytic Council (BPC).

Prof Kate Manne is an associate professor of the Sage School of Philosophy at Cornell University. Before that, she was a junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows from 2011 to 2013.
She specialises in moral philosophy (especially metaethics and moral psychology). feminist philosophy, and social philosophy and writes opinion pieces, essays, and reviews.

She authored Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny (Oxford University Press: New York, 2018; Penguin UK, 2019) about the nature, function, and persistence of misogyny. A second book, Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women came out in August 2020, with Crown (US) and Penguin (UK).

Panel Chair:

Dr Anuradha Menon is a Psychoanalyst in private practice in Leeds, UK and a Member of the British Psychoanalytical Society. She is originally from Kerala, India where she trained in Medicine. She qualified as a Psychiatrist in Mumbai. In the U.K she dual trained in Medical Psychotherapy and Adult Psychiatry in Leeds and works part-time as a Consultant in Liaison Psychiatry and Psychotherapy in the NHS.

Panel:

Rosanna Lewis, Ruth McCall, Jacob Johanssen, Marika Mckennell.

Rosanna Lewis is a senior independent domestic advisor for Sistah Space). Sistah Space, is a domestic abuse service that profiles and gives voice to awareness of African Heritage Women and Girls affected by domestic and sexual abuse. Rosanna has a social work background, particularly with children and families, and has also worked in domestic violence in the local area. She has always been involved in community work and facilitates holistic health workshops, and she has also been a bookseller for many years.

Marika Mckennell is an award-winning playwright with a background in spoken word poetry and performance. She was a member of the Royal Court writers’ group and was a resident artist at the Round House London 2017-18. Marika has written shows for venues such as Camden People’s Theatre, Shaftsbury Theatre Westend (for the NYT Gala), North Wall Oxford, The Roundhouse, Bunker Theatre, Southwark Playhouse (for ALT show case) and Edinburgh Fringe 2019 where she won a Fringe First Award for her play E8. Marika has performed poetry across the UK, at venues such as The Sky Garden, The Freud Museum, and The Royal Court, as part of the Open Court Festival. As well as writing and performing Marika facilitates creative workshops and has worked for 6 years as head of drama in an alternative provision for excluded young people with complex behavioural needs in Hackney East London.

Programme and tickets here.

Maddening Times: Storytelling Workshop. Part Of Bloom: Exeter’s Online Festival Of Mental Health Awareness

Join us for a special storytelling event from Dr Michael J Flexer as part of Bloom – our online festival to mark Mental Health Awareness Week. You can find out more about the festival including more free, online activity here >>


Being locked-down and out of contact, has been a trying and transformative time for all of us.  For some, it has been very stressful, being kept away from loved ones or our routine activities and social groups.  For others, the time alone has offered a bit of respite or escape from everyday pressures and problems. We’ve all been through a shared stressful time, but in our own different ways. 

Join with us, the Waiting Times project, to share stories of our experiences from this pandemic year. 


ABOUT THE WAITING TIMES PROJECT

The session will be run by Dr Michael J Flexer, publicly engaged research fellow, Waiting Times project, Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health, University of Exeter. 


HOW TO JOIN

This is an online event which will be hosted on Zoom. Please choose the ‘print at home’ option and the Zoom meeting link will appear on your e-ticket.

If you can’t find your link or have any questions please email dettie.ellerby@exeterphoenix.org.uk

Register for your free place now >>


We are proud to partner with After The Storm for this year’s Bloom Festival. Find resources, advice and support on their website here or by following After The Storm on Facebook here.

COVID-19: Making History

Martin Moore writes:

It is something of a foundational belief in the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge (and related fields) that knowledges are always shaped by the context within which they are constructed. Scientific knowledges are thus never independent of the social relations, economic structures, political pressures, ideological and tacit practices from which they emerged, and they are themselves cultural artefacts.[1]

Historians work with similar understandings about historical knowledge. Though articles or monographs do not routinely include historicisations of their own origins (though, note feminist histories like that by Catherine Hall and Carolyn Steedman), historians will usually recognise the circumstances of their text’s production in their acknowledgements.[2] Here they raise to the level of consciousness funding sources, intellectual interlocutors, social relationships and even some biographical detail to help make sense of where a particular work has developed.

The first page of acknowledgements by a certain author, who we shall call “M. Moore” to preserve their anonymity. That might be too obvious, let’s call them “Martin M.”

This is not to say that historians work unreflexively in relation to their origins, nor that they never publicly look to contextualise their own knowledge. Rather, they have tended to reflect most heavily on the relationship between past and present in historiographical and methodological texts.[3]

Recently the Waiting Times team has been thinking about how the current pandemic has been reshaping relationships to time (and care), which we will be sharing in a forthcoming dossier on COVID-19. It was in this context that I was reminded about E. H. Carr’s famous suggestion that history was an ‘unending dialogue between the present and the past’.[4] As historical and social subjects, in other words, historians are just as much a product of their particular time and place as those they write about, and our interpretations of the past will be inescapably influenced by our biographical, social and cultural relations.

Broadly speaking, historians have tended consider the relationship between the present of scholarship and the history produced in terms of large-scale social, economic and political formations and trends. How has a historian’s position in the social field shaped their view of the past? How might experiences of particular events or existence within specific cultural and political milieu shape the questions that are asked within research?

Regardless of how long the current measures of containment, delay and mitigation last, the impact of COVID-19 on psychosocial, economic and political life will likely be profound, and thus so will its effects on historical scholarship. Although it might be folly to think about precisely what these effects will be whilst we are still in the midst of the crisis – of a moment that might be an historical rupture and beginning of a new normal, or prove to be something far less monumental – it is nonetheless possible to consider how historical scholarship is already being reshaped. To explore how COVID-19 is already making history.

*

Perhaps the most overt ways in which the pandemic is influencing scholarship is in terms of disruption to intellectual networks and project temporalities.

It might be tempting to point to the cancellation of conferences and reworking of seminars as a major consequence of COVID-19, and to consider how difficult it is to recreate opportunities for conversations and collaborations that tend to emerge from interaction outside of the formal conference room.

However, as disability activists and scholars with caring and familial responsibilities have pointed out, these issues are long-standing. It should be a matter of shame that it has taken a global pandemic to force able-bodied academics to think seriously about alternative ways of working, when this has been so long denied to colleagues unable to be physically present at large, and often distant, events.

Instead, a problem more directly caused by the pandemic is how COVID-19 has radically disrupted postgraduate and PhD research, and will potentially reduce the time available to undertake ongoing projects. At the time of writing, some funding bodies have so far shown a willingness to ensure no cost extensions in proportion to the disruption experienced, but considerable anxiety and uncertainty still exists, and the internal research leave and fixed contract arrangements of individual universities are being addressed idiosyncratically. The absence of a sector-wide response – of guaranteed secure employment at (or above) present levels of pay for casualised staff – has begun to generate political action under the banner of a Corona Contract. However, even if agreed, the personal circumstances of researchers change over time, and their capacity to undertake the same work may well be altered in the future. The knowledge produced will thus likely be substantively different as a result.

Similar analyses can be applied at the level of teaching. As was made clear at the Modern British Studies conference last August, history modules are already being shaped by the short fixed-term, zero-hour contracts spreading throughout academia. This has often reduced preparation time and opportunities for scholars to create their own offerings, leading to modules being inherited and reworked where possible by temporary staff. Individual universities have used COVID-19 as legitimation for laying off staff or refusing to continue contracts of fixed-term employees, and together with social distancing the landscape of teaching looks very different as a result.

*

Of course, the pandemic is also shaping the knowledge it is possible to produce at the level of sources and methods.

Closures of archives and libraries has ensured a majority of resources remain inaccessible, and de facto quarantine is altering the way we can undertake oral historical work. (Given that the direction of an encounter is often shaped by the embodied interaction of interviewer and interviewee constructing the interview together in the same room, it is likely that even online interviewing will produce different testimonies.)

Some textual and visual materials are available online, partly due to digitisation and partly due to the increasing use of the internet as historical object and source.

However, a reliance on digital and virtual sources has its own implications for how we relate to, use, and think about historical materials.

For instance, texts that are available digitally and made keyword searchable can grow in epistemological importance. Equally, engagement with uncatalogued materials becomes impossible, and the assessment of a source’s materiality – its physical substance, potential sensory responses, clues to its production – are also precluded or made more difficult. In this sense the pandemic risks compounding historians’ existing reliance on the narrow range of sources that have managed to survive, and which have often been produced by social elites and from positions of (often violent) power. We will require further innovation in approaches and methodologies to avoid reproducing historical violence in the present.

At the same time, public and political discourses of healthcare, disease and contagion – as well as experiences of illness and practices of social distancing and self-isolation – are also altering how we might read and interpret our sources.

At a very basic level, I am currently revisiting my own work on waiting rooms. Under present conditions, materials relating to concern of infection are beginning to stand out more. References to feeling disturbed or diminished by waiting with patients with ‘hacking coughs’, for example, take on greater resonance, as do recollections of the way such anxieties shaped practices of attending surgery and sharing the time of waiting.

Take, for instance, one letter to the Manchester Guardian in 1951 about trying to collect a sickness certificate:

‘Ministries and medicine’, Manchester Guardian, 17 January 1951, p. 4

The day before I returned to work I thought I would ask my doctor about a certificate. I was, I hoped, still a little wan. His crowded waiting-room quickly drove me back into the street, so great was the barrage of coughing and sneezing. Half an hour after the official “hours” ended the crowd had thinned to a mere thirteen, so I ventured to wait. In another half an hour I was before the doctor.

Previously, I may have read this in terms of anxieties of waiting for – and consulting – the doctor when appearing healthy, in relation to the performativity of sickness. Equally, the source raises questions about the length of acceptable waiting, the responsibilities that doctors had to attend their patients after surgery hours, and the role of the medical profession in sick note certification. Even though I would have registered the disquiet with the waiting room as a source of infection, the fear of contagion would not have hit home in the same way.

Similar alterations in my interpretation have manifested in relation to GP’s frustrations with patients bringing in “dirt” to their waiting rooms. I have previously read such complaints in highly symbolic terms, in line with my interest in how discourses of dirt and cleanliness have been historically racialised and classed. Now, however, I am paying greater attention to dirt’s materiality. Though GPs’ irritations cannot be conceptually divorced from “dirt’s” cultural values, my own anxieties around the ongoing pandemic has made me appreciate the medical concern with hygiene embedded in GP’s choices of easy-to-clean materials for redecorating waiting in a period of regular infectious disease outbreaks.

Finally, even should the present proscriptions around “staying home” be eased, and libraries and archives swiftly reopen, the emotional experience of being in and using such spaces will also have been altered.

I already feel much more “exposed” simply going to a small supermarket, so I can only imagine that the experience of using public transport, sharing the space and time of research with others, and interacting with well-handled resources will be radically different for some time. To presume that such affective responses will not alter how I interact with historical sources (the time I can bear to be with them, how much more I rely on digitised versions) or the sorts of questions I will ask of them would be disingenuous.

Of course, even as I write many people literally cannot afford to avoid public transport or working away from home

*

There are, of course, much more complicated ways to think historically about epidemics, time and care in relation to scholars’ experiences of the present moment, and undoubtedly our teaching on history of disease and medicine modules will also be shaped by our students’ personal perspectives on their lockdown and social distancing.

Moreover, that I – and scholars like me – are only beginning to consider such questions seriously can itself be historicised.

This very reflection is the product of my having grown up in a period and place in which my privilege as a heterosexual, white (once working-, now solidly middle class) male living in Britain has afforded me protection – not simply from the epidemics that have tended to exist geographically and socially “elsewhere” (from HIV/AIDs to Ebola) but also from the structural violence that has consistently distributed disease disproportionately among the poorest and those most discriminated against in Britain (and globally). Even now, my positionality is proving protective, as underlined by reports that BAME communities are suffering disproportionate mortality from COVID-19.

Given the racial, class and gender disparities among the historical profession, I suspect that my experiences may be widely shared.

Nonetheless, whether explicitly discussed in acknowledgements, expressed within the subjects, questions and contours of research, reflected in how we organise and practice intellectual network formation, or manifest in the conditions within which teaching is delivered, the effects of COVID-19 on the present and future of historical scholarship will likely be widespread and significant. As such, though academic departments are by no means the only source of historical knowledge and narrative, it is fair to say that the present pandemic is also rewriting the past.

 

Notes

[1] For classics in the field and useful reviews: S. Shapin and S. Schaffer, Leviathan and the Air Pump: Hobbes, Boyle and the Experimental Life, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985); S. Woolgar and B. Latour, Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986); K. Knorr Cetina, Epistemic Cultures: How the Sciences Make Knowledge, (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1999); L. Daston and P. Galison, Objectivity, (New York: Zone Books, 2010).

[2] The most self-conscious example I have seen is the preface to a history on international development and the social sciences, which begins: ‘this book as much as the institutions which are its subject, comes out of a particular history, a certain intellectual climate, and specific funding possibilities’: R. M. Packard and F. Cooper (eds), International Development and the Social Sciences: Essays on the History and Politics of Knowledge, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), p. vii. For examples of texts firmly grounded in the historian’s own positionality: C. Hall, White, Male and Middle Class: Explorations in Feminism and History, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007 [1992]); C. Steedman, Landscape for a Good Woman: A Story of Two Lives, (London: Virago, 1986).

[3] For instance: A. Green and K. Troup, The Houses of History: A Critical Reader in History and Theory, Second Edition (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2016); L. Jordanova, History in Practice, Third Edition, (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019).

[4] E. H. Carr, What is History?, Second Edition (London: Penguin, 1990 [1961]), p. 30.

 

Messages in Bottles: Showcases at Honiton hospice

As part of our ongoing partnership with Hospiscare, Messages in Bottles, we held three showcases of work produced by service-users of the Honiton day hospice.

These three events presented written stories, pictures, songs and short films made in our storytelling and story sharing collaborative workshops.  We had participants – service-users, staff and researchers – as well as family, friends, carers and other members of the Hospiscare team come along for an afternoon of reading, thinking, talking and sharing at the King’s House day hospice in Honiton.

We also had plenty of tea, cake, laughter and the occasional tear.

Our next planned event is a tour of local libraries.  We’ll be taking interactive displays of the stories to Honiton, Seaton, Sidmouth, Axminster and Exeter.  We had planned to start this tour in April 2020, but we had to postpone for obvious reasons.  Hopefully, libraries will re-open after the summer and we will be able to take take our show on the road then.

Until then, you can listen to some of the stories here.

Lunchtime seminars with Occupational Therapy at the RD&E

In collaboration with Dr Arthur Rose (Bristol), Michael organised a series of lunchtime seminars for Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy practitioners at the Royal Devon and Exeter hospital.

The workshops grew out of discussions with an OT nurse who attended a Waiting Times workshop at the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health.  In addition to fostering links and dialogue between the research team and healthcare professionals, the seminars aim to provide humanities research-based ideas and inspiration for developing clinical practice, using the Waiting Times research as a major source of insight.

In November 2019, Michael shared stories, video and audio from the Messages in Bottles project he and Kelechi have worked on in partnership with Hospiscare.

In February 2020, Michael ran a workshop on how semiotic techniques can be applied to understand and improve upon communication, information exchange and partnership between patients and healthcare professionals in the clinical encounter.

Dr Rose, Michael and the OT team at RD&E will be planning future lunchtime seminars for the year 2020/21.


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