I joined the Open University in 2008 as a Senior Lecturer in Health and Wellbeing. Prior to that I spent seven years as a Lecturer in Health Geographies at the University of Manchester. Previous positions have included Senior Research Fellow at Salford University and Project Consultant for the Co-operative Bank working on their community partnership strategy.
My research is wide ranging but the driving theme is a curiosity for how people and organisations interact around issues of health and wellbeing. I'm particularly interested in how worlds of experience change as a result of lifecourse challenges. This has resulted in studies on ME, maternal health, parenting and gay men’s health. More recently I have been exploring the use of alternative spiritualities by individuals and organisations to enhance wellbeing and the role of spirituality more broadly in contemporary British society. This aspect of my research is inspired by the idea that the world is more mysterious and enchanted than we habitually think. Using social science and art combined, I explore the relationship between the real and the imaginary, the body and the spirit, this world and the otherworldly.
I have a particular interest in qualitative methods and creative approaches to social science research and learning.
Spirited Stoke: Spiritualism in the Everyday Life of Stoke-on-Trent (SpELS)
SpELS is an AHRC-funded research project using participatory photography and ethnographic research to explore how spirit and Spiritualism are woven through the historic and contemporary fabric of the city of Stoke-on-Trent. Spiritualism is a philosophy and religion based on the belief that the soul continues to live following the death of the physical body and that communication with spirit is possible through the channel of trained mediums. It has often been assumed that Spiritualism is a religion of the past, however, from the latest Census numbers and the on-going presence of Spiritualist churches across Britain, there is no doubt that Spiritualism is still alive and well today. The overall aim of this project is to further theoretical understanding of the place of spirituality and spirit in everyday life, bringing insights from the practices of Spiritualist Churches and their congregations. You can find out more about the project by following us on Twitter (@SpELSproject) or Facebook.
The Spirituality of Everyday Life: spaces of experience and practice
This is an ongoing project following the publication of my book 'Everyday Spirituality: social and spatial worlds of enchantment', exploring the growing ‘spiritual turn’ in Western society. I am interested in exploring everyday alternative spiritualities at a variety of geographical scales, from the body to the nation, to provide a deeper exploration of the way in which apparently individualised appropriations of spiritual awareness impact and compound across society and space. You can learn more by visiting the Everyday Spirituality Blog.
‘Tell it like it is’: exploring experience and raising public and practitioner awareness of living with UC
‘Standing outside waiting to use the disabled toilet that doubles up as baby changing room. Mother came out said to her friend “I hate people using the disabled toilet when there's nothing wrong with em” and stood staring at me. Lifted up my top and showed my deep scar running from the top of me ribs and down into jeans and a stoma bag full to bursting. Toddler screamed mother stood with her mouth open to the floor. Job done’.
This experience, posted on an online support forum for people living with ulcerative colitis, is sadly not uncommon. Ulcerative colitis is more prevalent in the UK than Multiple Sclerosis or Parkinson’s Disease and yet is less well-known. Compared to other long-term conditions, people with UC perceive substantially more negative impact upon their lives, particularly in terms of the psychological burden. Knowing more about what matters to people living with UC would be of benefit to developing peer support, education for health professionals and for developing wider public awareness. This project therefore intends to explore in patients’ own words, what it is like to live with UC and what they would like doctors and the wider public to know. In particular it will explore the role of online interaction as a mechanism for a particularly open and honest form of support.
Reflexive parenting: exploring parental decision making (pump priming from the Royal Geographical Society)
Parenting represents one experience which may challenge our understanding of the world and prompt us into a complex process of reflexivity. Progressive medicalisation of childbirth and parenting – in Western society in particular - has led to an emphasis on health professional involvement, and a lack of attention to the wider role of civil society and empowerment in parental decision making. Nonetheless parental decision making varies considerably geographically within and between countries. This venture began with a small pilot project funded by the RGS to develop collaborative links through a research visit to the Public Health and Caring Sciences, University of Uppsala, Sweden in 2006. The aim is to explore the social and cultural embeddedness of parental decision making within the first year of a child’s life. The comparative perspective between Sweden and England - two countries with very different patterns of infant feeding and parenting cultures - will help to shed light on how and why parents make the decisions they do.
Health literacy and framing of health messages in the gay community (Economic and Social Research Council)
This project, in collaboration with Professor Paul Bellaby and Dr John Goldring at the Institute for Social, Cultural and Policy Research at Salford University, was driven by the belief that current understandings of health literacy are based on a narrow interpretation of ‘illness literacy’. Using gay men as a case study, the project suggested policy developers and service providers would benefit from a broader understanding of both health and literacy in order to target health promotion messages.
Development, Participation and Health (Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship)
Globally participation has been elevated (some would say controversially) to prime position in health systems development. However this faith in participation is not without its problems and there is no consistent and concrete agenda, theoretically or pragmatically. Participation is a complex medley of thoughts, actions and outcomes which are inherently political – seeking to define the relationship between development ‘subject’ and ‘object’. Drawing on discourses of citizenship, patients’ rights and power, this project was part of a broader programme of work funded by the Department for International Development which sought to develop theoretical insight whilst bringing together international practitioners to develop knowledge and understanding of participation in action.
Public Health and Primary Care (Department of Health)
I was employed as a researcher on this programme at the National Primary Care Research and Development Centre, University of Salford. The project examined public health pathways, organisational and professional cultures of practice, focusing on how professional communities of practice influence the dissemination, uptake and development of policy initiatives on the ground.
My teaching at the Open University has involved primarily working on K313 Leadership and Management in Health and Social Care and K217 Adult Health, Social Care and Wellbeing. Teaching experience prior to joining the Open University has included undergraduate and Masters level courses on space, culture and society, health and wellbeing, and qualitative theoretical and methodological approaches in social science.
My aim through all my teaching is to facilitate independent, creative thinking to empower students to develop their full capacity.
|OpenSpace Research Centre||Centre||Faculty of Social Sciences|
|Role||Start date||End date||Funding source|
|Lead||01/Oct/2014||31/May/2016||AHRC (Arts & Humanities Research Council)|
Stoke-on-Trent, famous for its pottery industry, has its past written into the cultural and material landscape of the city, resulting in a peculiarly haunting backdrop to the familiar story of urban industrial decay. In recent years Stoke City Council has tried to reinvigorate the region, drawing on this industrial heritage and redesigning Stoke as a vibrant and youthful city of culture. However, the emphasis on its pot-based past hides another important aspect of Stoke’s cultural heritage, a thriving historical and contemporary Spiritualist movement. The project aims to uncover this hidden legacy, exploring the role of Spiritualism across the lifecourse in people’s everyday lives. A key part of the project is to hold an exhibition at the Gladstone Museum exploring the historical and contemporary role of Spiritualism in the city. Materials gathered through the research (including photography, video, audio and material artefacts) will be used to create a lasting legacy that records this hidden heritage, whilst also serving as a space for opening up a conversation around the role of spirituality in people’s everyday sense of wellbeing.