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Critical Health Humanities

Cultural (Re)Constructions of Illness, (Mental) Health, Well-Being and Recovery


Gaston Franssen

Illness and health transcend the limits of our bodies: they are social, cultural and political realities, too, increasingly on a global scale. Living with an illness often comes with the social restrictions of ‘the sick role’, or even stigmatization. Health and well-being, additionally, are culturally and politically meaningful practices: they produce and disseminate images, narratives and connotations, they imply specific notions of (global) citizenship and personhood, and they construe oppositions – instable as they may be – between normal and deviant, legal and illegal, natural and unnatural. Such oppositions are set up – and often questioned and rejected, too – in a wide variety of sources, ranging from medical discourses and popular culture to artistic practices and interventions by patient organizations. To fully understand the challenges of health and illness, therefore, it is essential to critically assess them as cultural (re)constructions. It is this ambition that the researchers associated with this group share. Employing a broad variety of tools and insights from the humanities and the social sciences, they aim to offer answers to the following leading questions:

  • How should we understand illness, health, well-being and recovery as social, cultural, and political constructions at different scales (from local to global)? How are they shaped by images, narratives, media and practices, and what norms, values and ideologies do these evoke?
  • How do these constructions impact the structure and practice of health-related institutions, such as health-care, medical and psychological education, health communication and self-help publishing, health policies and patient organizations?
  • What defines the relation between these constructions and institutions on the one hand and the personal experience of health and illness on the other? To what extent can individuals ‘talk back’, either artistically or more formally, at institutionalized languages of illness and contest the norms and assumptions that these imply?


  • Dr. Gaston Franssen (coordination)
  • Dr. Emily Ng
  • Prof. Dr. Manon Parry (UvA/VU)
  • Prof. Dr. Esther Peeren
  • Prof. Dr. Patricia Pisters
  • Dr. Natalia Sánchez-Querubín
  • Dr. Nadia de Vries
  • Joe van der Eerden
  • Currently accepting new members, please get in touch with


  • Seminars (every two months), conference (every two years)


  • Mediality
  • Arts & Aesthetics
  • Globalization & Migration
  • Identities
  • Cultural and Social Critique