Works that Shaped the World: No single story: Medical Humanities from the Parallel Chart to Performance Art

Following the inspiration of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, this presentation explores the multiple history of the Medical Humanities, selecting three moments in this history to consider whether, and if so, how, the Medical Humanities have changed Medicine. Beginning in late 1978 with the publication of two defining books – Samuel Shem’s The House of God and Thomas Beauchamp and James Childress’ The Principles of Biomedical Ethics, Dr Hooker will discuss what people of the time found newly articulated in these books, and also how they do, and don’t, relate to each other. The ‘first wave’ of the Medical Humanities followed with its culmination in the publication of Rita Charon’s Narrative Medicine. This work offered sympathetic and practical means for various forms of humanising medicine. Many challenges to medicine, conceptually or aesthetically, followed in the period after 2011, with the advent of the ‘critical medical humanities’ – the ‘second wave’ – and of arts and health. The lecture concludes with two anecdotes of students and performance art as a means of exploring new transformative opportunities for health and healing. 

Dr Claire Hooker is Senior Lecturer in Health and Medical Humanities at Sydney Health Ethics and Chair of the Arts Health Network NSW/ACT. An innovator in effective communication in healthcare, Claire’s research has focused on how doctors and other health care professionals can use system thinking at both an interpersonal and an organisational level to transform their capacity to engage others with integrity and impact. Claire combines expertise in creative arts research, critical humanities scholarship, cognitive psychology approaches to risk perception and communication, and the history and philosophy of science, to produce practical methods and new insights into ethical communication in health. With the Sydney Arts and Health Collective, Claire has recently used verbatim theatre and drama-based to understand and improve healthcare workplace training, culture and communication, through the Collective’s play Grace Under Pressure, and the Grace Under Pressure workshops, which use acting techniques to build strong, values based repertoire for communication.

Claire has published widely on risk communication in relation to infectious disease, and has recently been prominent in the media in relation to COVID-19 response. She has published 4 books and over 50 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters on topics as diverse as non representational theories of empathy and infection control, the importance of taking a multi-cultural approach to the medical humanities, the use of video-reflexive ethnography to improve hospital practice, and the history of radio astronomy.

Date & time

Thu 20 May 2021, 5–6.30pm




Dr Claire Hooker (University of Sydney)


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