Sub-theme 48: Medical Humanities and the Social Construction of Health and Well-Being

Andrea Bernardi
School of Advanced Defence Studies (CASD), Italy
Federica Angeli
University of York, United Kingdom
Christian Delorenzo
Centre Hospitalier Intercommunal de Créteil & Université Paris-Est Créteil, France

Call for Papers

Medical humanities (Bleakley, 2019; Cole, Carlin & Carson, 2015) is a flourishing academic field where humanities and social sciences try to complement the efforts of scientists and medical doctors to deliver health and social care. Originated in the USA in the 60s (Pellegrino, 1961; Pellegrino & McElhinney, 1982), this emerging discipline recognises the academic relevance of the medical ethics, history of medicine, and sociology of health, in understanding healthcare processes, theory and practice.
The field is intrinsically plural, fluid and hard to pin-down through clear-cut definitions or borders. Multiple approaches can be identified, which intersect with multiple disciplines and at different levels of analysis. One approach, for example, views the arts and humanities as a way to enrich medicine and healthcare delivery without interfering directly. A more radical view, instead, aims to directly impact the medical sciences by redefining the meaning of being human, the experience of life, death, sufferance, illness (Das, Angeli & Schayck, 2020). In both cases, the field is hugely important because it contributes to the education of medical students and healthcare professionals, the development of narrative and relational competencies, the study of health-related aspects of our societies, the popularization of medical sciences. Over time, more disciplines have joined the challenge: literature, narrative and narratology (Trautmann Banks & Pollard, 1975; Frank, 1995; Greenhalgh & Hurwitz, 1998; Charon, 2006); language, arts, politics (Newsholme & Kingsbury, 1933); anthropology (Kleinman, 1988; Good, 1994); and political economy (Doyal, 1979). A further development was the establishment of the notion of health humanities. At this point, it seems no longer enough to complement medicine with one discipline from the humanities. The understanding of complex health problems and the study of how medicine and its technologies affect individuals and societies would require a joint, interdisciplinary effort.
Organization studies have hardly contributed to medical humanities. The sub-theme on medical humanities at the EGOS Colloquium 2022 in Vienna has started off an important conversation around how organisation theory and practice can leverage medical humanities methods and theories to better understand and design healthcare processes. Building on that initial sub-theme, we aim to continue strengthening the community and advancing the discourse towards the long-term objective of establishing organization studies as a prominent discipline in the field of medical humanities. In particular, the intersection of the two fields is crucial to recognise how the concepts of health and well-being, and the resulting models for healthcare and social care delivery, emerge from the complex interaction of people’s norms and values, institutional and geographical contextual factors and temporal transience, reflecting the path dependency of any social system. Socio-ecological approaches, that appreciate the influence of multiple factors to explain individual health behaviours, organisational practices and systemic outcomes are increasingly recognised as necessary to develop and shape healthcare systems (Angeli, Jaiswal & Shrivastava, 2022). Involving the arts and humanities in investigating these aspects marks an important methodological and theoretical advancement, able to significantly improve organisational and management practices in the health and social care sector. By shifting the attention to how health and well-being are socially constructed, medical humanities provide a highly significant contribution to organisation and management theory at large.
This sub-theme aims to attract colleagues interested in the study of complex organizations, such as hospitals (Cook et al., 1983; Westra et al., 2017; Delorenzo et al., 2021), national health services (Westra et al., 2015; Clements, Coady & Gupta, 2012; Battilana, 2011; Blumenthal & Hsiao 2005), pharmaceutical firms (Angeli, 2014) or professionals (managers, doctors, scientists, social workers…) involved in healthcare, medicine and public health (Martin et al., 2020; Goel et al., 2019; Petrakaki et al, 2016; Hoeyer, 2009; Waring & Currie 2009). Socio-ecological views and system-oriented approaches are also very welcome, which embrace the complexity and socially constructed nature of health and well-being models and organisations (Angeli et al., 2022; Angeli & Montefusco, 2020, Angeli, Camporesi, del Fabbro, 2021). There are many possible insights that we would be able to bring into the field. For instance, the perspective of organization studies will enrich the way we look at healthcare and medicine with constructs, variables and categories such as autonomy, centralization, efficiency, power, politics, conflict, subcultures, employment relations, voice, participation, managerialism (Bernardi & Greenwood, 2014; Currie et al., 2012; Hasselbladh & Bejerot, 2007).
We are also interested in health, safety and wellbeing at work and the study of the behaviour of those hosted by total institutions such as hospitals, asylums, and quarantine facilities (Goffman, 1961; Holmqvist et al., 2013).
Another potential case is military medicine in both peacetime and war. Additionally, if we look back at our own disciplinary founding fathers and funding myths in the early 20th century, we would find that the interest in health, hygiene and healthcare has never been alien to organization studies. To this end, management and organizational history can play an important role in understanding the influence of time, space and people in the social construction of health.


  • Angeli, F. (2014). With the help of a foreign ally: Biopharmaceutical innovation in India after TRIPS. Health Policy and Planning, 29(3), 280–291.
  • Angeli F., Jaiswal A. K., & Shrivastava S. (2022) Integrating poverty alleviation and environmental protection efforts: A socio-ecological perspective on menstrual health management. Social Science & Medicine 314: 115427.
  • Angeli F., Camporesi S., & Fabbro, G. D. (2021) The COVID-19 wicked problem in public health ethics: conflicting evidence, or incommensurable values? Humanities and Social Sciences Communications 8(1): 1–8.
  • Angeli F and Montefusco A (2020) Sensemaking and learning during the Covid-19 pandemic: A complex adaptive systems perspective on policy decision-making. World Development 136: 1–4.
  • Battilana, J. (2011). The enabling role of social position in diverging from the institutional status quo: evidence from the UK National Health Service Organization Science, Vol 22 Issue 4.
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  • Bernardi, A. Greenwood (2014). Old and New Rural Co-operative Medical Schemes in China: The usefulness of a historical comparative perspective. Asia Pacific Business Review, Vol 20, Issue 3, pp. 356-378.
  • Bernardi, A. (2011). ‘Occupational health and safety in organizations; Applying Amartya Sen’s Capability Approach and Organizational Climate’, in Vulnerable workers; Safety, Well-being and precarious work, edited by M. Sargeant and M. Giovannone, Gower.
  • Blumenthal, D., Hsiao W., (2005). Privatization and Its Discontents, The Evolving Chinese Health Care System. New England Journal of Medicine, 353:1165-1170.
  • Charon, R. (2006). Narrative Medicine: Honoring the Stories of Illness. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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  • Doyal, L., 1979, The Political Economy of Health, London, Pluto Press.
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  • Frank, A. (2004). The Renewal of Generosity: Illness, Medicine, and How to Live. Chicago: The Chicago University Press.
  • Goel, S., Angeli, F., Dhirar, N., Sangwan, G., Thakur, K., & Ruwaard, D. (2019). Factors affecting medical students’ interests in working in rural areas in North India - A qualitative inquiry. PLOS ONE, 14 (1), e0210251.
  • Good, B. J. (1994). Medicine, Rationality, & Experience: An Anthropological Perpsective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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  • Petrakaki, D., Klecun, E., & Cornford, T., (2016). Changes in healthcare professional work afforded by technology: The introduction of a national electronic patient record in an English hospital. Organization, 23( 2), 206–226.
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  • Waring, J., & Currie, G., (2009). Managing expert knowledge: Organizational challenges and managerial futures for the UK medical profession. Organization Studies, 30 (7), 755–778.
  • Westra, D., Angeli, F., Carree, M., & Ruwaard, D. (2017). Coopetition in health care: A multi-level analysis of its individual and organizational determinants. Social Science & Medicine, 186, 43–51.
  • Westra, D., Angeli, F., Carree, M., & Ruwaard, D. (2015). Understanding competition between healthcare providers: Introducing an intermediary inter-organizational perspective. Health Policy, 121 (2), 149–157.
Andrea Bernardi is Associate Professor of Organization Studies and HR at the School of Advanced Defence Studies in Rome, Italy. His main research contributions relate to the co-operative sector, including Chinese co-operatives. Andrea also works on employment relations and inequality, and he has further interests in the study of time, the past, and history in management and organizational studies. Currently, he is working on employment relations in the military and wargaming.
Federica Angeli is Professor of Management at the University of York Management School, United Kingdom. Her research focuses on organizational adaptation and learning to address complex societal issues, with a particular focus on inclusive healthcare delivery, poverty alleviation, and societal resilience.
Christian Delorenzo is Hospital Literary Advisor, a new professional figure created at Centre Hospitalier Intercommunal de Créteil (CHIC), where he is in charge of an interprofessional Narrative Medicine program. He teaches Narrative Medicine at the School of Medicine of Université Paris-Est Créteil (UPEC).