Storytelling, Health and Illness

Storytelling, Health and Illness

Throughout history, people have felt a need to tell each other stories about the ordinary as well as the surprising experiences of being alive, particularly in relation to health, well-being, illness, disease and death. Telling stories was – and still is – a way of recording and grappling with the origins, causes and prevention of illnesses and disease that surrounded them in everyday life.

These stories are increasingly being uncovered in historic diaries, journals, records and manuscripts, and now take their place alongside contemporary forms of storytelling such as blogs, vlogs, medical texts and online research. What we are discovering is that health, illness, disease and dying have and continue to be documented in all sorts of fascinating ways and using a plethora of diverse forms.

Throughout history, people have felt a need to tell each other stories.

Literature offers us poetry, prose, plays and autobiographies. Art brings visual power, both moving and still, in the form of paintings, pictures, illustrations, cartoons, street art and even graffiti. From its inception, photography has told the tale of bodies recovering from war, from giving of birth, from the taking of life and all points in between.

Moving pictures, film, cinematography, theatre and ballet bring dramatic performances of health and illness to public life. Music, from opera to metal, punk to electronica remembers and retells stories of just how intense the experience of health and illness can be.

Today is a great day to be sick! Huge numbers of resources are available for people to do research, to learn about illnesses affecting others, to aid people who are calling for help or to document one’s own illness or the illnesses of others. Today is also a great time to stay healthy. Stories uncover facts about fad diets, how something as simple as washing one’s hands can cut back on the spread of influenza; that walking, fortunately, can be as healthy as running with less strain on one’s body; the avoidance of foods which cause allergies, the wider availability of nutritional foods and ingredients.


Literature offers us poetry, prose, plays and autobiographies.

Medical ‘literacy’ is now within easy reach. Yet, with it there has also been a rise of online self-diagnosis, hypochondria, the ‘ignore-ance’ or bypassing of expertise and the spread of dubious or even cynical forms of information. The rise of the health ‘industry’ has spawned both helpful and dangerous influences in relation to our thirst for well-being.

This inclusive interdisciplinary conference is about sharing stories and documentation of health and illness with a view to forming a selective innovative publication to engender further collaboration and discussion.

Unlike other gatherings, our event will aim to step outside traditional conference settings and offer opportunities for artists, caregivers, clinicians, photographers, practitioners, theorists, independent scholars, academics, performers, writers, and others to intermingle, providing platforms for interdisciplinary interactions that are fruitful and conducive to broadening horizons and sparking future projects, collaborations and connections.

We are excited to accept proposals for presentations, displays, exhibits, round tables, panels, interactive workshops and more.

We are also carrying forward plans for the formation of The Interdisciplinary Storytelling Initiative which will create a unique platform for storytelling as a nexus for academic, professional, business, NGO and voluntary sector activities.

We are excited to accept proposals for presentations, displays, exhibits, round tables, panels, interactive workshops and more.

We want to hear about how the fear of a disease can be misplaced and then soothed by a single photograph or song. Or how treatment and perseverance can be documented on the internet, showing the resolution of a healthy body and mind after a lengthy battle. We hope to learn how research in one country might help researchers in another resolve a sickness that has not been seen before. Or how something as simple as clean water can improve health dramatically.

Why are we not willing to discuss with others all the bodily functions when we are all alike and our bodies generally work the same way?

Let us also hear the tales and superstitions told to warn of unhealthy practices, of potatoes growing in one’s ears and toes falling off if we are unclean. Let’s hear about promoting good health practices and talk about bodies and their function as a means of prevention rather than the pursuit of infection.

Let us also grapple with some key questions. Why are we not willing to discuss with others all the bodily functions when we are all alike and our bodies generally work the same way? If there were more of a willingness to share the biomechanics of one’s body with others would we discover and be able to treat symptoms earlier in life? What is the link between body and mind when pursuing health and wellness?

Above all, let’s share the ways in which storytelling is enabling people to become more aware of their bodies, stay healthy or learn about new treatments for their illnesses, find support groups of all kinds, and raise their awareness of what it means to interact with others who are interested in telling those same tales.

What to send

The aim of this interdisciplinary conference and collaborative networking event is to bring people together and encourage creative conversations in the context of a variety of formats: papers, seminars, workshops, storytelling, performances, poster presentations, panels, Q&A’s, round tables, etc.

300-word proposals, presentations, abstracts and other forms of contribution and participation should be submitted by Friday 8th March 2019. Other forms of participation should be discussed in advance with the organising chair.

All submissions will be minimally double-reviewed, under anonymous (blind) conditions, by a global panel drawn from members of the project development team and the advisory board. In practice, our procedures usually entail that by the time a proposal is accepted, it will have been triple and quadruple reviewed.

The aim of this interdisciplinary conference and collaborative networking event is to bring people together.

You will be notified of the panel’s decision by Friday 22nd March 2019. If your submission is accepted for the conference, a full draft of your contribution should be submitted by Friday 12th July 2019.

Abstracts and proposals may be in Word, PDF, RTF or Notepad formats with the following information and in this order:

  • Author(s)
  • Affiliation as you would like it to appear in the programme
  • Email address
  • Title of proposal
  • Body of proposal
  • p to 10 keywords.

E-mails should be titled: ‘Storytelling Submission’ Abstracts should be submitted simultaneously to the organising chair and the project administrator:

  • Jeremy Vaughan: jeremy@progressiveconnexions.net
  • Project administrator: lisbonstories@progressiveconnexions.net

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