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Liminality in practice: A case study in life sciences research

Authors
  • Clinch, Megan1
  • Shaw, Sara2
  • Ashcroft, Richard3
  • Swinglehurst, Deborah4
  • 1 Queen Mary University of London, The Global Health Unit, The Centre for Primary Care and Public Health, Blizard Institute, Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Yvonne Carter Building, 58 Turner Street, London, E1 2AB, UK , London (United Kingdom)
  • 2 University of Oxford, Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, Oxford, UK , Oxford (United Kingdom)
  • 3 Queen Mary University of London, School of Law, London, UK , London (United Kingdom)
  • 4 Queen Mary University of London, Complex Intervention and Social Practice in Health Care, The Centre for Primary Care and Public Health, Blizard Institute, Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, London, UK , London (United Kingdom)
Type
Published Article
Journal
BioSocieties
Publisher
Palgrave Macmillan UK
Publication Date
Jul 05, 2018
Volume
14
Issue
2
Pages
251–273
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1057/s41292-018-0128-x
Source
Springer Nature
Keywords
License
Green

Abstract

Contemporary health challenges (e.g., diabetes, climate change, antimicrobial resistance) are underpinned by complex interrelationships between behavioural, cultural, social, environmental and biological processes. Current experimental systems are only partially relevant to the problems they investigate, but aspirations to embed interdisciplinary working and community engagement into life scientists’ work in response to this partiality have proven difficult in practice. This paper explores one UK university-based life sciences research initiative as it seeks to develop modes of working which respond to this complexity. Drawing on ‘liminal hotspots’ as a sensitising concept, we explore how participating academics articulate complex problems, knowledge-making, interdisciplinary working and community engagement. Our analysis shows they become recurrently ‘trapped’ (institutionally and epistemologically) between fixed/universalised cosmologies of biology/disease, and more contemporary cosmologies in which biology and disease are conceptualised as situated and evolving. Adopting approaches to community organising based on ‘process pragmatism’, we propose ways in which life scientists might radically reorganise their practice and move beyond current limiting enactments of interdisciplinary and community engaged working. In doing so, we claim that the relevance and ‘humanness’ of life science research will be increased.

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