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You are here: Home / Fac Dev News / Seminar: The Situated Engagement of Medical Practices

Seminar: The Situated Engagement of Medical Practices

Ronald Schleifer  Research Professor of English, and Adjunct Professor in Medicine from the University of Oklahoma will lead a seminar entitled “The Situated Engagement of Medical Practices: Practical Reason and Practical Humanities in Medicine” on 12th July from 6.00 – 7.30 pm . The seminar will be help in room 739 at Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1 0AL.

For further information please email Dr Caroline Pelletier:

The Medical Humanities is a growing area of study in the United States, where colleges of arts and sciences and colleges of medicine are more and more frequently creating faculty positions and programs to widen the scope of medical education and areas within the humanities.  The work of this lecture is based upon years of teaching and research in the medical humanities and the forthcoming book, The Chief Concern of Medicine: The Integration of the Medical Humanities and Narrative Knowledge into Medical Practices, co-authored by Ronald Schleifer and Jerry Vannatta, MD, which is scheduled to appear in late 2012.

The Situated Engagement of Medical Practices:
Practical Reason and Practical Humanities in Medicine

The use of the humanities in the training of physicians pursues that practical engagement of physicians striving to develop with their patients both concepts of and therapies to promote health, well-being, or coping with illness, even as they are trained in the seeming objectivism of disinterested “pure” scientific objectivism, best exemplified under the concept of “evidence-based medicine.”  In this presentation I pursue the concept of “schema-based medicine” in order to focus on the “medical humanities” as it has developed in recent years in the United States that delineates the “practical humanities” of situated engagement, which is, arguably, a working, practical definition of clinical medicine altogether.  The “practical reason” of my title is the standard translation of Aristotle’s concept of phronesis, his description of the work of ethics in everyday life that strives toward situated interested action rather than abstract understanding. 

This talk describes the work of the humanities – in literary studies, philosophy, linguistics – in order to describe what the humanities have to offer an education in healthcare.  Specifically, it argues that the humanities in general – and the medical humanities specifically – study and develop schemas that understand and condition experience.  In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle argues that the most important skill for achieving the good life is “practical reasoning” (phronesis), and his chief example of the practioner of phronesis is the physician.  Phronesis, he claims, is obtained through years of experience.  In this talk I argue that the medical humanities can help medical students and practicing physicians to obtain such “practical” – and, indeed, “clinical” – reasoning systematically and more quickly by studying the schemas of narrative understanding, of interpersonal engagement, and of ethical behavior.  In the last two decades, the humanities have developed systematic strategies and methods for developing these skills just as throughout the twentieth century physics and evolutionary biology have developed strategies and methods for understanding physiology and biology.  This talk focuses on medical and literary narratives, theories of narrative, and theory of mind, to offer a practical description of the nature of the medical humanities and how it contributes to education in healthcare.  Growing out of years of working with physicians and teaching pre-med and medical students, it examines the ways that the widely practiced “evidence-based medicine,” based upon the methods and achievements of the nomological sciences, can and should be complemented by “schema-based medicine” that offers systematic strategies for developing important “experiential” skills for physicians and other healthcare professionals. 

Ronald Schleifer is George Lynn Cross Research Professor of English and Adjunct Professor of Medicine at the University of Oklahoma.  He has written and edited more than seventeen books.  His books include The Chief Concern of Medicine: The Integration of the Medical Humanities and Narrative Knowledge into Medical Practices (2012); Intangible Materialism: The Body, Scientific Knowledge, and the Power of Language (2009); Medicine and Humanistic Understanding: The Significance of Narrative in Medical Practices (2005); Modernism and Time: The Logic of Abundance in Literature, Science and Culture 1880-1930; Culture and Cognition: The Boundaries of Literary and Scientific Inquiry (1991); A. J. Greimas and the Nature of Meaning: Language, Semiotics, and Discourse Theory (1987).  He has also edited three editions of Contemporary Literary Criticism (1989, 1994, 1998).  For more than a dozen years he has taught Literature and Medicine in the College of Arts and Sciences, the Honors College, and the College of Medicine at the University of Oklahoma.