VIDI & VICI projects

In 2010 I was a awarded a VIDI grant by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research -NWO), for a a 5 years-research project, Bodily Integrity in Blemished Bodies. This project ran from 2011 until 2016. For more information, visit this project’s website: Mind the Body

In September 2017 I have started a new project, Mind the Body: Rethinking embodiment in healthcare. This 5 year project is funded by a NWO-VICI grant. News about this project will be posted on the website,Mind the Body, as well.

VICI Project description (2017-2022)

Based on the Cartesian legacy of body-mind dualism, contemporary healthcare conceives of the body as a biological or neurological thing. This view causes healthcare professionals to lose sight of the body as it is experienced and to jump to types of explanations that obscure embodied dimensions of health problems. Frequently, psychological explanations are provided for physical problems without a clearly identified somatic cause (“psychologization”) and mental problems tend to be explained in terms of some brain deficiency (“neuro-reductionism”).

Criticisms of dualism often lead to monistic materialist views, thus failing to provide a broader perspective on embodiment. This project aims at tackling both dualism and monistic materialism from a phenomenological materialist perspective. To conceptualize the body’s materiality in contemporary healthcare beyond dualism and monistic materialism, the proposed project employs an empirical-philosophical methodology. It will explore the meaning of the body’s materiality against the background of current theoretical discussions on materialism, while also examining practices that target three major health problems: (1) Medically unexplained physical symptoms (MUPS), (2) Obesity, and (3) Depression. These cases are each in their own way marked by a problematic dualistic legacy, and this calls for alternative views and vocabularies on embodiment.

The three cases will be studied in three PhD-subprojects that involve qualitative fieldwork (interviews, observations). This fieldwork combines phenomenology (unraveling experiences) and ethnography (analyzing broader context) to map relevant views of patients and professionals and to uncover how embodiment is framed in patient-professional interactions. In addition, two post-doc researchers develop philosophical analyses of “psychologization” and “neuro-reductionism” regarding the three cases. Finally, the overall project’s synthesis, to be performed by the applicant, relies on these same case-studies to offer a philosophical analysis of materialism. The project will thus produce an empirically sound theory of embodiment, to be implemented in healthcare practices in collaboration with healthcare professionals.

VIDI Project description (2010-2016)

Bodies that are blemished, by accidents, diseases or treatments, may have lost their biological and/or functional intactness. Nevertheless they may be experienced and considered as “whole”. This project seeks to explore the experience of bodily wholeness in people with disfiguring breast, head and neck cancer.

It will argue that the way in which people experience their own body serves as the basis for making (treatment related) choices, and thus entails a normative meaning. To this purpose, it starts from the hypothesis that bodily integrity should be explained in terms of the capacity of identifying with one’s body, i.e. the capacity of being the body one has. Physical restoration of someone’s blemished body does not necessarily result in the restoration of this person’s experience of bodily integrity, e.g. a breast reconstruction restores physical intactness, but identification with the new breast cannot be taken for granted. This project seeks to enrich the current discourse and practice of medical ethics by bringing forth that decision’s about physical interventions should not be based upon cognitive deliberations only.

The process of decision making should also include an articulation and evaluation of the way a patient relates to her/his body. It is exactly this project’s aim to provide insights in how cancer patients and survivors express their experience of (loss of) bodily wholeness. Such an empirically sound vocabulary of body experiences can subsequently be used by medical professionals to support patients in making good decisions.