I study and write about the relationships between “silence” and oppression in health and healthcare, while also researching accessibility, education, and the relationships between all of these.
The content below is written to be more accessible to a broader audience, because my research impacts and is impacted by a broad audience. Are you looking for a more concise or academic summary of my research? Please email me for a CV or dissertation abstract draft.
My Main Research
In everyday language, I study and research issues where topics of knowledge and health overlap. My main interests around knowledge and health are about which kinds of knowledge are valued or “listened” to, and what the consequences are when certain kinds of knowledge are “silenced” or aren’t valued. I believe this is especially important in healthcare, because sometimes the consequences mean that some people don’t get the care they need, or even die preventable deaths. My hope is that studying the different ways we fail to listen in the right ways, and exploring the different kinds of silences that exist, can help us to access and provide better health care, while conducting better research in the future.
Maybe you or someone you know has visited a hospital and felt that what you said wasn’t listened to, that you weren’t taken seriously, and that you were sent home without getting the care you need because of a misunderstanding. That’s an everyday example of the kinds of things I research. But I’m also interested in what makes it so that some people can’t even get into a hospital in the first place, or why certain kinds of people aren’t represented in how we research or teach or talk about medicine and health. Often when we look closer at these kinds of questions, we find that they are very closely connected to histories of oppression, or that these issues impact certain social groups more than others. I focus most on people who are disabled or 2SLGBTQIA, since these are groups and communities I belong to. But there is a lot of overlap between these two groups, and between each of these groups and other groups as well.
In academic shorthand, I will sometimes say that I research “social moral epistemologies of health”. This isn’t helpful for most people though, so you can say a little more mysteriously that I research “silence in health and healthcare”, or generally that I research philosophy, medical ethics, or health humanities. Many of the conference presentations I list on this page are talks about “silence” and healthcare, but this won’t always be obvious from the language I use, because I often choose to use the language that other people are already using.
Currently, I research in the Department of Philosophy and the Joint Centre for Bioethics at the University of Toronto, where I am a PhD Candidate and Vanier Scholar. The University of Toronto is located on land that traditionally belongs to Indigenous peoples, including the Huron-Wendat, the Seneca, and the Mississaugas of the Credit River. I think it is important to name these people and places when we talk about research, not only to get settler colonials like me to reflect on the ongoing history and legacy of colonialism, and to reflect on the privileges we’re afforded, but also to try to resist the “silences” around Indigenous presences and issues in healthcare. Often, conversations with and about Indigenous peoples are absent from research, and other times, our research profits from the using ideas and histories of Indigenous peoples without credit. For example, a lot of my research of silence talks about what some people call “narrative ethics” and “narrative medicine”, and the general importance of stories for health. But with only very few exceptions, most of these hundreds of articles and conversations don’t mention or try to learn from the rich narrative practices of the Indigenous peoples local to where they research and learn.
Research areas: Applied ethics, bioethics, feminist philosophy, philosophy of disability, philosophy of medicine, social epistemology.
As part of my main research, I am currently working on a dissertation on silences in narrative health practices. That dissertation focuses a little more narrowly than what I described above. Here is a general summary:
Some people argue that there has recently been a “narrative turn” in medicine and bioethics. Basically, this means that many people are discussing the different ways that attending to stories can be important for ethical healthcare and research, and are trying to find out what changes we should be making as a result of these discussions. There are many different ways that people use the terms “narrative medicine” and “narrative bioethics” though, so it is not always clear what we mean by these phrases in discussion without more specific context, and other people have more specific objections about these theories or practices. My research is less concerned about what we mean by these phrases though, or how we should be engaging with stories and testimonies. Instead, I worry that putting too much of an emphasis on stories or testimonies can miss or hide the different kinds of silences that exist in healthcare and health research, and that this is important because silences can tell us a lot about injustices in healthcare. That is, I do think it is important to ask how we can encourage patient stories and to ask what the best ways are for us to engage with them, but I also think we need to think about how we engage with moments where stories do not or cannot show up.
In my dissertation, I explore this second issue: how do we identify and engage with different kinds of silences in health research and practice, what are the real-life consequences of these answers for health and healthcare, and what does this mean for people talking about narrative? To answer these questions well, my dissertation needs to do a few things. First, I explore some of these discussions about “narrative medicine’ and “narrative bioethics” to make sure I’m understanding and treating those discussions respectfully and critically. Second, I argue that there are many different kinds of silences. This may seem obvious, but it isn’t something that these discussions in healthcare often talk about, and the different kinds of silences will require us to listen and respond in different ways. The rest of my research picks a few of these types of silences to study in more detail. For each of those, I try to show how studying them can help us better understand and respond to current problems in healthcare and health research. While might sound like a very broad project (it is!), I focus mostly on cases that people studying “narrative medicine” might also study, so we can focus on improving their theories instead of just talking about silences more generally.
Disability, Evidence, and Policy: Reappraising Research on Restricting Student Laptop Use. Ethics of Pedagogy Speaker Series. University of Toronto Centre for Ethics. Toronto, Ontario, CAN. Accepted: Peer-reviewed. February 27, 2020, 4.30-6.00pm EST.
- This presentation is a talk and workshop. In it, I show that a lot of the research supporting laptop bans is riddled with particular methodological issues that make it harder to feel confident about their findings. I focus particularly on the different ways disability is excluded or discounted in research, and how this undermines their results. Then, I offer some tools for how to read future research, so that we can collectively become a little more confident in reading research when we don’t know the methodologies. My hope is that this presentation will both help people to have better practices in their classrooms, but also to help people build better evidence-based practices for designing courses and course policies.
Note: The following four conference talks have been canceled as preventative health measures. Holding large conference gatherings during a global epidemic would be very irresponsible, and these cancellations are decisions I support and agree with. I am happy to chat about these presentations one-on-one with any interested people, such as through Skype or other means.
Crooked Trees, Crooked Bodies: Disability and the Environment in the Inner Zhuangzi. Canadian Philosophical Association Annual Meeting. London, Ontario, CAN. Accepted: Peer-reviewed. June 1-4, 2020.
- This presentation talks about a famous Chinese work called the Zhuangzi, and explores the ways that disability and the environment are explained with and against each other in that writing. I use other historical sources to try to make sure that I am not reading too much contemporary or western bias into the analysis, but part of my goal in presenting is to get more feedback on whether this was successful. My goal for studying these relationships between disability and the environment is to suggest that there are things that can be used as lessons for people researching or doing activism around “crip ecologies” or “disability and the environmental humanities”.
Disability in the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) Standards of Care: Limitations and Recommendations. Canadian Bioethics Society Annual Meeting. Toronto, Ontario, CAN. Accepted: Peer-reviewed. June 3-5, 2020.
- This presentation gives an overview of how disability appears in one of the commonly used resources on transgender health. The concepts of trans and disability have historically been very intertwined in a lot of ways, both theoretically (in how we think about the concepts, or think about bodies), and in practice (classifying being trans as a medical issue or disability, trans people being more likely to experience disabilities, or disabled trans people being unable to safely take certain gender-affirming treatments). Considering this, disability seems rather absent from this resource. This presentation examines this, and shows that this isn’t just a “whatabout…” worry asking for better representation, but that better trans health and healthcare needs to more seriously consider disability and especially disabled trans people.
Efforts to Reduce “Unnecessary Care” in Canada: Cautionary Notes. Canadian Bioethics Society Annual Meeting. Toronto, Ontario, CAN. Accepted: Peer-reviewed. June 3-5, 2020.
- This presentation responds to a trend in Canada where healthcare professionals are trying to reduce “unnecessary care”. When people are tested or treated in cases where it isn’t likely to make a medical benefit, this can lead to issues like increased medical costs, patient discrimination or anxiety, and even harmful side-effects from treatments, among other issues, so it seems good to try to limit the amount of “unnecessary care” we provide. I generally agree with this! This presentation raises a concern that this practice might contribute to health inequalities though, since we know generally that certain groups of people are already less likely to be listened to seriously, to be provided testing and treatment. While my hope is that this presentation is “boring” in the sense that people are already aware of this and thinking about it, this fact doesn’t seem to show up in ongoing conversations, and I think it needs more direct attention.
Hashtag Ethics: Digital Health Narratives and the Ethics of Lurking. Canadian Bioethics Society Annual Meeting. Toronto, Ontario, CAN. Accepted: Peer-reviewed. June 3-5, 2020.
- In some of my research, I have argued at times that we need to look at diverse ways of knowing, and diverse ways of communicating knowings. As a quick example, there is a lot of knowledge that appears on Twitter and Instagram that doesn’t appear in medical journals, for the simple reasons that most people in the world don’t publish academic articles. So I have sometimes argued that we need to look more closely at social media, at zines, at poetry, and other spaces where those people who are less likely to be “heard” in healthcare and health research might share their knowledge and views. One problem though, is how to do this ethically and responsibly. I think many of us would feel uncomfortable if our social media posts ended up cited in an article without or against our permission, or even knowing that someone was reading our thoughts and work for their own professional gain. So in this presentation, I share a few thoughts based on resources Professor Karen Frost-Arnold has created in her work on “lurking” online. This presentation is mostly meant to start and share in a live conversation, and to receive ongoing feedback, than to present definitive answers.
An invitation: attend conferences with or through me
I get to attend some conferences where academic researchers and health practitioners meet, and many of these events are inaccessible to the “broader public” because of things like their costs, location, academic jargon, restrictions on who gets to register, and other sources of inaccessibility. Where possible, I like to try to use my attendance to benefit others who cannot.
One way I’ve been able to do this is to bring the questions and experiences of people who are unable to attend into the Q&As of other presentations (and to share the answers I receive back accordingly). For any conferences above you see me planning to attend, you may be able to find a schedule of titles (though, many conferences are moving to “apps” that make schedules less accessible online). You can also share your views or perspectives about the topics I’m presenting on if you want. I believe my research needs to be accountable to the experiences of others, and I’d be glad to discuss with you whenever time permits, and to do so even in my presentation if possible.
If you have questions or perspectives that you would like to be raised in any of the events I’m listed as attending (such as questions for a particular presentation on a conference schedule), or for my own research, I am always happy to hear from you and to try my best to share them. You can send me an email.
Exclusive conferences and conference exclusions
My research and learning is grounded in dialogue and community conversation, and so I seek out conferences and events rather often. However, this is only possible through the material and community supports I have access to. The list here is meant both to provide a reference for people looking to reconnect after an event, and to give some more detail on my research. But I am also acutely aware of how this contributes to the pervasive culture of ‘productivity’ and overwork as a norm in academia (as academics’ personal websites often do in general). This is particularly an issue among graduate and early-career academics, and passively and actively serves to exclude or disvalue many people and groups who do not have the same access to resources or opportunities. I hope that this comment can do at least a little work to contextualize these research activities while we remain critical of the structures and barriers around them.
Relatedly, while I will often refuse to apply to or attend conferences that show no regard for accessibility (including, unsurprisingly, conferences on the philosophy of disability…), I do sometimes attend conferences that are accessible to me yet inaccessible to others. Sometimes I am invited do this specifically to talk about that inaccessibility (e.g., “My Presentation Is Inaccessible”, Canadian Bioethics Society, 2019). It is important to note that many conferences barely scrape by legal minimums for accessibility, where there are legal standards at all. Beyond (or rather, entangled with) issues of cost and of productivity, there are also these issues of accessibility, ableism, and disableism.
Those interested in thinking more about academic norms in the context of disability in particular might wish to read more about the concept of ‘crip time’ such as in Alison Kafer’s 2013 Feminist, Queer, Crip (esp chapter one) or Ellen Samuels’ 2017 “Six Ways of Looking at Crip Time” in the open access journal Disability Studies Quarterly. I also recommend Margaret Price’s Mad At School which does well to discuss and interrogate norms around eg participation and productivity in the context of mental disabilities (esp chapters two and three).