Narrative, Health, and Social Justice

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This interdisciplinary and inter-institutional seminar explores the connection between narrative, health, and social justice. If disease, violence, terror, war, poverty and oppression all manifest themselves in narrative, then it is equally true that resistance, justice, healing, activism, and collectivity can be products of a narrative- based approach to ourselves and the world. Narrative understanding helps unpack the complex power relations between North and South, state and worker, disabled body and able-body, bread-earner and child-bearer, subject and researcher, patient and provider as well as self and the other. The seminar will draw from such fields as journalism, performance arts, law, public health, trauma studies, anthropology, sociology, literary studies, medicine, writing, and cultural studies. The common thread will be the narratives we tell as individuals, families, communities, and nations that situate our experience in social, political, and cultural contexts, and that express in so many ways our search for justice in our world and for our world. Our aim is to broaden the mandate of each of our disciplines, challenging each of us to bring a critical, self-reflective eye to our scholarship, teaching, practice, and organizing. How are the stories we tell manifestations of social injustice? How can we transform such stories into narratives of justice, health, and change?

Sayantani DasGupta, MD MPH
Assistant Clinical Professor of General Pediatrics, Columbia University

Marsha Hurst, Ph.D.
Lecturer in Narrative Medicine, Columbia University

Cameron Donald

Meeting dates and locations are subject to change. Please confirm details with the seminar rapporteur.




04/22/2016 203 Diana Center, Barnard College (3009 Broadway)
12:00 PM
Disgust, Bodily Aesthetics, and the Ethic of Being Human in Botswana
Julie Livingston, New York University
Speaker Link Abstract

J. Paul Martin , Barnard College and Columbia University
Speaker Link Abstract

03/10/2016 Faculty House, 64 Morningside Dr.
7:00 PM
Aging, Health, & Incarceration
Jack Beck, The Correctional Association
Speaker Link Abstract

Mujahid Farid, Release Aging People in Prison
Speaker Link Abstract

Notes: This event will present an overview of the prison healthcare system in NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) facilities with a focus on the aging population, their health needs, and the challenges faced by DOCCS in providing this population with appropriate services. This will include a discussion of prison-based skilled nursing care, palliative care and hospice programs, and of efforts to get this population released through parole or compassionate release programs.  

Please RSVP to Cameron Donald ( by Thursday, March 3rd.

Per the request of the University Seminars office, sandwiches are available for order at $25, payable only by check made out to “Columbia University Seminars.” Please inscribe the seminar number (737), the word “lunch” and the date in the memo. You must indicate that you would like to order dinner in your RSVP. Dinner is served one hour before the event. Bringing your own brown bag snacks is also welcomed and encouraged!

As always, our seminar is committed to accessibility and inclusivity. If you require disability accommodations, please contact me. If you have further questions about campus accessibility, please contact Disability Services at (212) 854-2388.
02/18/2016 Faculty House
12:00 PM
Every Voice Matters: StoryCorps in Collaboration with Healthcare Organizations
Perri Chinalai , Associate Director of Legacy

Eddie Gonzalez , Associate Manager of Legacy

Notes: Research suggests that storytelling provides benefits to people affected by serious illness, yet relatively few health care institutions offer reminiscence programs. In this regard, StoryCorps, the national nonprofit, launched Legacy in 2010, recognizing an opportunity to partner with organizations that aim to affirm people’s lives and provide quality, person-centered care.

Since then, Legacy has partnered with over forty organizations - including hospitals, hospices, palliative care programs, pediatric centers, and disease-specific service providers - to record, preserve, and share the stories of people affected by serious illness, including caregivers. Each partnership includes on-site, interactive trainings to give staff and volunteers the tools to inspire powerful storytelling and record interviews for a period of at least three months. Interviews take place in a variety of settings, including patients’ homes.

In this seminar, Perri Chinalai and Eddie Gonzalez will explain the Legacy partnerships structure, illustrate how a variety of collaborative teams have used it to develop recording projects within their organizations, share audio recorded through these partnerships, and propose how healthcare professionals can enhance their services through these methods and tools.
12/10/2015 Faculty House
7:00 PM
Erin Wood ,

Kelli Dunham ,

Samantha Plakun,

Heidi Andrea Restrepo Rhodes,

Notes: Join us for a reading, discussion, and presentation on Scars: An Anthology with editor Erin Wood and four of the book’s New York contributors. Copies of the book will be available the day of the Seminar.

Scars: An Anthology examines the range and nuance of experience related to scars of the body. Through various genres and mediums, nearly forty contributors address self-mutilation, creating art, gender confirmation surgery, cancer, birth, brain injury, war, coming of age, pain, and love, all focusing on the central question of what it means to live with physical scars.
11/19/2015 Faculty House
7:00 PM
Caregiving in SABBATICAL: Family, Aesthetics, and Personal Cinema - A Conversation with Brandon Colvin and Marcelline Block
Brandon Colvin , University of Wisconsin
Speaker Link Abstract

Marcelline Block,
Speaker Link Abstract

Notes: In an engaging discussion with filmmaker Brandon Colvin led by discussant and film scholar Marcelline Block, during this seminar we will explore the relationship between caregiving and narrative through Colvin’s cinematic masterpiece Sabbatical (2014). A work of rigorous form, Sabbatical follows protagonist Ben as he returns home to care for his ill mother and work on a new book. In this setting, Ben becomes increasingly alienated from once intimate relationships with friends, a lover, and family. Ultimately, Ben must confront his looming responsibilities and choose whether to engage or detach.

Sabbatical has been featured in numerous festivals and screening series including the Beloit International Film Festival, the New Orleans Film Festival, the Western Kentucky Film Festival, the Wisconsin Film Festival, and the 2015 Kinoscope screening series at the New School in NYC. Sabbatical was recognized by both the Madison Film Forum and No Film School as one of their top 20 films of 2014.

****A prescreening of Brandon Colvin’s film Sabbatical will be shown at 5:30 pm
10/16/2015 Faculty House (64 Morningside Dr)
12:00 PM
Paper Subjects: Disability in Comic Books and Graphic Narratives
Jonathan Gray , John Jay College, CUNY
Speaker Link Abstract

Chris Foss, University of Mary Washington
Speaker Link Abstract

Notes: Given that disability continues to be a major trope in so many graphic narratives, it is crucial to apply insights offered by disability studies and to theorize potential paradigms for productive critical articulations of disability and sequential art. Chris Foss (University of Mary Washington) and Jonathan Gray (John Jay College / CUNY) will speak to these concerns as well as presenting work from their respective chapters—on autism in Keiko Tobe's popular "With the Light" manga series; and on "Cyborg, Social Death, and Black Disability”—from their forthcoming collection, Disability in Comic Books and Graphic Narratives (Palgrave Macmillan, Literary Disability Series).

Per the request of the University Seminars office, sandwiches are available for order at $25, payable only by check made out to “Columbia University Seminars.” Please inscribe the seminar number (737), the word “lunch” and the date in the memo. You must indicate that you would like to order lunch in your RSVP. Bringing your own brown bag lunch is also welcomed and encouraged.

Please RSVP to by Monday, October 5th. Space is limited for this event.

As always, our seminars are committed to accessibility and inclusivity. If you require disability accommodations, please contact Disability Services at (212) 854-2388.