Report of 3rd Annual Culture Medicine & Power Writing Retreat

Blog post by Tara Mahfoud

The Culture Medicine & Power research group held its 3rd annual writing retreat on 19-20 January in Walberswick on the Suffolk Coast of England. The goal of the retreat is to inspire creativity and confidence in academic writing, focusing on creating a supportive environment where CMP members can generate new material, experiment with different writing styles, brainstorm new ideas for future projects or articles, as well as share and receive feedback on preliminary writing. Here is what CMP members had to say about the retreat:

IMG_4223“The writing retreat was a creative, fun, and learning-filled weekend. It was a perfect place to explore and share written work, and it gave me plenty food for thought on how to present work in the future.  As a first-year PhD student, it was a great opportunity to meet and interact with colleagues and department professors in a different environment.”

  • Emma Wynne Bannister

“As a first year PhD student, the writing retreat provided the best opportunity I’ve had so far to get to know others from the department. Not only do I now have people to call on to discuss academic themes, or theoretical approaches, but I also feel more connected to the work of the wider research group, and department. It was really fun to experiment with novel writing techniques and styles, and surprisingly easy- despite my initial fears of self-consciousness. I have already implemented a few of the techniques in my writing since.”

  • Sally King

IMG_4215“Through utilizing a series of creative exercises in a supportive and kind environment, the writing retreat allowed me to explore new writing styles and break from my rigid ways of writing. This experience was very enriching I still reflect on it and the lessons I learned in it.”

  • Zeina Amro

Programme – Day 1

8:00-9:00                   Breakfast

 9:00-9:45                   Writing Exercise 1: Telegraphic

9:45-10:30                Writing Exercise 2: Choose your own style

10:30-11:00              Coffee Break

11:00-11:45              Writing Exercise 3: Decision Tree

11:45-12:30              Writing Exercise 4: Choose your own style

12:30-1:30                Lunch Break

2:00-3:30       Writing Exercise 5: Identifying stylistic features.

Pick a page or two of writing by one of your favourite authors – this                                     could be an academic piece of work, fiction, poetry, journalism, or                                   anything that inspires you! Read it over and over again, copy it down                     word for word, and in so doing, try to identify its stylistic features. Note                   these down.

3:30-5:00       Writing Exercise 6: Emulating style.

Choose a piece of writing from your own work, and try to rewrite it in                      the style of the author you have chosen. You need to use your own                                 words, of course, but try to imagine how this author would have written                  your text.

7:30-9:30                   Dinner

Programme – Day 2

8:00-9:00                   Breakfast

 9:00-9:45                   Writing Exercise 7: Auditory, olfactory, or tactile

9:45-10:30                Independent writing

10:30-11:00              Coffee Break

11:00-11:45              Writing Exercise 8: Write a mini-story in the first person.

Take on the persona of one of your interlocutors or, if you prefer,                             a fictional person.

11:45-12:30              Independent writing

12:30-1:30                Lunch Break

2:00-3:30                   Writing Exercise 9: Writing with an image.

Bring an image from your fieldwork or research and exchange it                             with your neighbour. Use their image to tell a story prompted by                         it.

3:30-5:00                   Writing Exercise 10: Recycle.

Go back to a piece of old work that you never published or                                       integrated into your dissertation. Take a line from it and write a                                new story based on it.

7:30-9:30                   Dinner

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GHSM Seminar May 23rd: Dr. Carlo Caduff on “Cancer: On Knowing and Naming”

When: Wednesday 23rd May from 12.00-13.00


Dr Carlo Caduff

Where: Room K3.11, King’s Building, Strand Campus, King’s College London

Dr. Carlo Caduff is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Global Health & Social Medicine at King’s College London. He received his PhD in Anthropology from the University of California at Berkeley.   Dr Caduff’s research explores the politics of bioscience, biomedicine and biosecurity in the United States and India. His first book – The Pandemic Perhaps – was published by the University of California Press in 2015 and translated into German by Konstanz University Press in 2017. He is co-editor of a Current Anthropology special issue on New Media/New Publics. Research articles have appeared in journals such as Cultural Anthropology, Current Anthropology, Cambridge Anthropology, BioSocieties and Annual Review of Anthropology. In 2017, Dr Caduff received a Wellcome Trust grant to start a new ethnographic research project on cancer care in India. He serves as Director of the Global Health and Social Medicine Doctoral School and Deputy Director of the Culture, Medicine & Power Research Group (CMP). He is Associate Faculty at the India Institute and Visiting Faculty at the Graduate Institute Geneva.

 Abstract The non-disclosure of a cancer diagnosis is relatively common in India. Studies have shown that many cancer patients are unaware of their disease. But how exactly is non-disclosure working in a hospital setting? What are patients told when they are not told that they have cancer? At stake in the question of non-disclosure is the very idea of the patient – what does it mean to be a patient? However, equally at stake is the extent to which we want to measure every relation against that of knowing. This essay traces the everyday life of non-disclosure in an Indian cancer hospital.

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Applications are now open for 3-week intensive Global Health & Social Justice summer course

Now taking applications for the Global Health & Social Justice summer course for international undergraduate students.

In this 3-week intensive course, students will learn about the history of glo­bal health and the contemporary challenges facing global health policy and practice. Pragmatic case-studies will be combined with a consideration of how global health problems are situated within larger political, social, cultural and economic contexts.

The module is team-taught by faculty members at the KCL Department of Global Health and Social Medicine and includes hands-on learning excursions in London.Application due date: May 31.

For more information:




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April 25th 4 pm Seminar “The Urban Brain: living in the neurosocial city” with Professor Nikolas Rose

When: April 25th, 2018 16:00 – 17:30
Where: STRAND BLDG S0.12, King’s College London Strand Campus
NikolasRose_photoNikolas Rose is Professor of Sociology in the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Kings College London which he founded in 2012.   He is a social and political theorist, with a particular focus on questions of political power, mental health, psychiatry and neuroscience.  His most recent books include The Politics of Life Itself : Biomedicine, Power, and Subjectivity in the Twenty-First Century(2007); Governing The Present (with Peter Miller, 2008) and Neuro: The New Brain Sciences and the Management of the Mind (with Joelle Abi-Rached, 2013).  His current work seeks to develop new relations between the social sciences and the life sciences, partly through  research on mental health, migration and megacities: his forthcoming book The Urban Brain: Living in the Neurosocial City (with Des Fitzgerald) will be published by Princeton University Press in 2018.  His long overdue book on Our Psychiatric Future? will be published by Polity Press in 2018.
Abstract: In this seminar I will argue that we should rethink the experience of living in the city in the light of recent developments in the sciences of life. We now know a great deal about the corporeal and cerebral impacts of the varieties of forms of life that we call ‘urban’.  I will argue that social scientists need to work with researchers in the life sciences to understand how urban experience, and urban adversity ‘gets under the skin’ and shapes the bodies and brains of urban citizens and denizens.  I will discuss the idea of ‘the neurosocial city,’ that I have developed with Des Fitzgerald.  This concept aims to grasp the ways that the forms of life in the conglomerations we call cities are simultaneously lived and transacted through the living bodies and brains of ‘each and of all’ – the individuals and the multitudes who inhabit urban space. I will outline the argument that my colleagues and I are developing in our current research on the mental consequences of migration into megacities, explain why I think that understanding mechanisms is important both theoretically and practically, draw out the implications, on the one hand for our understanding of the vital lives of cities, and on the other, for the relations between the social sciences and the life sciences today.  
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“Applying for a PhD: What I said and what I wish I had said” – blog post by Giulia Cavaliere

Blog post by Giulia Cavaliere, Wellcome Trust PhD Candidate, Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, King’s College London.

A few weeks ago I was asked to take part in a workshop on the topic: applying for a PhD. This workshop was organised for our postgraduate students by a colleague from the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine.

I happily accepted as I thought that talking to them about my experience could spare them from making similar mistakes to the ones I made before, during and shortly after I started applying for PhD programmes. I also thought that my experiences (and my failures, losses of time and energy) could help them a little to navigate their way through the application process and especially the daunting task of securing grants. Ah, the hubris! It was an immense mistake to think that my short presentation and the Q&A session afterwards could help them, because, let me now retrospectively tell you: that’s not what a workshop on applying for PhD programmes should be about.

Picture1Let’s start with what I actually told these students. In my presentation, I spoke about the practical steps to apply for a PhD in the UK.

First step: find a topic that you like and that you can see yourself doing research on; think about something you’re passionate about and that you feel the need to investigate further; then write a two-page project proposal about it. Simple, eh?

Second step: find a supervisor that is interested or – better – is carrying out research in the question/s that interest you and that is willing to work with you on the topic. Check articles, books, whatever you like to read. Find the authors and email them. If your dream is to work with Nik Rose because you love Foucault, with Bronwyn Parry because you’re interested in surrogacy agreements or with John Harris because bioethics is your passion… well, write to them. It’s worth a shot.

Third and very important step: apply for funding. It’s definitely possible to do a PhD without funding, but it’s tough(-er). You’ll have to work a lot on your research topic, you may want to teach, organise a conference (or you may not want to do that, believe me), attend conferences, organise a reading group, spend two hours in a pub at 4 p.m. just to discuss some philosophy with your friends… well, doing all this whilst having a parallel part time job is a nightmare (but hey: remember that this is what I think – not the Truth. There are people that are perfectly happy to do both a PhD and a part time job).

So, back to the applying for a PhD workshop. I told the students about these steps, but I told them in a sterile and oh-I-am-so-professional way. I talked about funding bodies, funding databases, and strategically writing to your favourite scholars to ask them to be your supervisors. I became one of those condescending adults I used to hate as a teenager. Well, all I’ve said is important, but what I wished I told them is something else. I wish I told them what follows.


Giulia Cavaliere

Don’t find a topic that you like. Find something that keeps you up at night more than watching Black Mirror on Netflix. Something that you’d choose to read over your favourite Jo Nesbo novel (or, if you’re slightly more sophisticated than me, your top Dostoevsky). Something that has accompanied you throughout your life because it’s a family illness and you want to help people living with it and those caring for them, or something that simply makes you happy (the happiness factor is underrated in research in my view). That’s how you should choose the topic of your PhD. Or at least, more humbly put: that’s how I would advise you to choose the topic of your research. Please, do not look for something that is good for your career. It is true that there are certain topics that are overcrowded with scholars that are probably much smarter and much more experienced than you. It is also true that some topics are too niche-y, too broad, and the like. But if you think you can make a contribution to the literature and – ten thousand times more importantly – contribute in some ways to improve people’s lives… well then please ignore strategic selection of topics and go for what keeps you up at night. It is very hard to predict what 4-5 years down the line will be looked for in the job market. An example? Who could have predicted that free will scepticism would have become a thing? Or who could have predicted before the publication of Jonathan Haidt’s and Joshua Greene’s seminal work on intuitions and emotions (around 2000), that their role in the formation of moral judgements would have become among the most popular topics in social psychology? Or that after the Brexit referendum there would have been a wealth of positions to do research on the effects of Brexit on people’s psychology, on the economic system of the UK and other European countries? (if you don’t believe that this is happening, please take a look at – I am not making this one up). In hindsight, I wish I stressed more the passion element of choosing a topic as no one can pay you enough to work for three (and sometimes more) years on something that you don’t care about. It’s alienating. And in these liberal and capitalistic political and economic times, there are enough alienating jobs without adding research to the list.

Don’t look (only) for the biggest experts in the field to be your supervisors. It matters to have the best people. I was blessed with two of the best supervisors that one could hope for. But this is not why I’m eternally grateful. What makes Silvia Camporesi and Barbara Prainsack (and now, informally, John Harris) amazing supervisors is not only that they’re amazing scholars (and they are, believe me). What makes them amazing is also that they’re always on my side, they’re ready to cheer me on when I succeed and to cheer me up when (much more often) I fail. It matters that they are the best people. Of course, that’s hard to know beforehand, but that’s something that is thousand times more important than having a big name on your CV (and I’m also lucky because they’re big names, but that’s not the only thing you should consider. That’s what I’m saying).

Regarding funding, please remember the huge role played by luck and be kind to yourself. You can be the smartest, most passionate and talented person in the world, but if the reviewers don’t like/understand/value your topic… well: forget it. So, prepare the strongest application ever. Get advice from your tutors, graduate teaching assistants, future supervisors and former advisors, but also, importantly: prepare yourself to be rejected. Applying for funding is one of the most distressing things that I had to do in my whole (short) academic career so far. Getting funding is hard. Wait, let me be clear about it: it is bloody hard. You’re competing against thousands of others that are as talented, as smart, as passionate as you are (in my case: add a ‘more’ before each category). It is a matter of luck too. So, prepare yourself for rejection, but especially remember that this happens to everyone and it depends on a multiplicity of variables that are outside your control. Be kind to yourself, get ice-creams and coco pops (maybe not together), cry if you need to (I always do, not that it helps… but remember that it’s ok if you do), hang out with your best friends, walk your dog, go climbing, for a run, etc. That’s how you should handle rejections, not by blaming yourself or by losing faith in your skills and capacities.

What I really wish I had told them is also to look into themselves and ask why they want to do a PhD. There are millions of both trivial and very important reasons to do a PhD, and I’m not the person to judge whether yours are good enough. Ask for advice and talk to people, but ultimately: feel it and especially question it. To me that’s the most important thing you have to consider, the condicio sine qua non of applying for a PhD programme. Doing a PhD is emotionally demanding. You’re constantly facing rejections (from grant bodies, from editors, from employers). You’re facing tough feedback and sometimes too-tough-to-handle feedback on your work. You’re often alone doing research on something that no one but you really knows something about. The mental health crisis among PhD students is finally being acknowledged and it is now increasingly appreciated that it’s not about weak, snowflake millennials, but that some aspects of the whole system are likely to drive you insane. The job market afterwards is even worse. There are simply no jobs and again you need a combination of talent and luck.

So, please, forgive me for talking about such technical things as funding bodies and strategies to get into programmes, and consider what I’ve written here. But then, if you’re ready for this: do it. It can be the best thing in the world. I mean, you’re paid to listen to amazing scholars, read amazing books and articles, write, do experiments, and teach brilliant students. That’s how I feel every day: lucky and blessed. Despite the emotional toll that doing a PhD takes from me, and despite the time I’m not dedicating to my partner, my family and my friends. Now: so long. I’ll get back to work. And by work I mean writing an article about population control and climate change. That’s how amazing it can be.

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