The Project

Following recent developments in countries such as the USA, Canada, and the UK, this project aims to introduce a new interdisciplinary area in Portugal, Narrative Medicine (NM) or Medical Humanities. NM offers a humanizing approach to our appreciation of, and response to, human illness and suffering, thus complementing the findings of Evidence-based Medicine (EBM) (Parker 2005).

The emergence of a hard and technology-based paradigm that came to dominate the art of medicine (Antunes 2012) has caused discomfort among those concerned with the ensuing subalternization of dialogue with the patient, and of the attending skills of attentive listening, interpretation and internalization (Marques 2003). The 1990s witnessed the emergence of interdisciplinary post-graduate programs drawing on the humanities at large (in particular, history of medicine, ethics and philosophy), and specifically on developments in literary studies (close reading, narratology, reception studies, ethical criticism – Fernandes 2001a), as well as in film studies and art history. The interest in such interfaces was partly determined by health care providers’ awareness of the ‘commodification of health care’ (Charon 2006), the adoption of a ‘managerial culture’ (Antunes 2012), and the growing and prevailing reliance on recent diagnostic tools. Reading body signs needs to be accompanied by decoding patients’ narratives and non-verbal cues, which requires a specific cognitive predisposition that can best be fostered by integrating humanistic training with medical expertise and clinical experience (Tauber 2009).

This research and practice call for interdisciplinary collaboration and a multidisciplinary clinical humanities team, as is the case with the one proposed since most of its members have developed joint work in the field between 2009 and 2011.

The pedagogic component of this project is decisive for the consolidation of NM in Portugal and its success depends on the intellectual exchanges and first-hand observation of tested models (e.g. Program in Narrative Medicine, Columbia). To that effect, the project will train Portuguese NM lecturers in partner institutions abroad that offer programs of advanced training. Rita Charon’s role as advisor is crucial in this regard: a medical doctor and literary critic, she directs the pioneering program at Columbia and is an international reference in the field.

No less decisive is the joint collaboration of three European R&D units that have pursued work in this area: 1) Centre for the Humanities and Health, King’s College, which has promoted research and initiatives in the field since 2002; 2) Laboratoire d’éthique médicale et de médecine légale, Univ. Paris Descartes, that has introduced advanced training in Médecine et Humanités in 2011-12; CEAUL/ULICES – University of Lisbon Centre for English Studies, that has carried out various initiatives in the area since 2009 and will launch the first inter-institutional post-graduate curricular unit in NM at UL in 2012-13.

For purposes of advanced training, we will edit an anthology of excerpts of fictional and non-fictional literary texts translated into Portuguese and accompanied by an introductory note and keywords/ glossary. This material will be used in classes and remain available for usage outside academia.

Critically important is the creation of a permanent seminar as a privileged forum for the discussion of ongoing research, so as to foster trans- and interdisciplinary dialog. The sustained practice of scientific exchange aims to consolidate methodologies and knowledge, a key procedure for a team developing pioneer work in an innovative area. This entails a sense of public responsibility, manifest in initiatives promoted in partnership with health care institutions and scientific societies so as to open NM to society at large.

Following our aim to promote regular exchanges not only between national and international team members and research centers, but also with professionals working in health care or in the humanities, we plan a one-day symposium (Nov. 2013) to present and discuss the results of the first year of our activities. The international conference (June 2014) will bring the research carried out to wider visibility and scrutiny, foster scientific debate, and assess the overall achievements.
An online database featuring a survey of bibliographic material relevant to this interdisciplinary area will be created and subject to continuous updating.

The expected outcome is: 1) to launch an innovative field of study in Portugal that will be pursued beyond the two-year duration of the project; 2) to offer regular NM curricular units in integrated post-graduate programs; 3) to create research bases (bibliographic nucleus, specific scientific output) and advanced training (teacher-training, an anthology) that pave the way for the consolidation of NM among us.