During my degree I became fascinated by the role of culture in determining individual identity and ways of perceiving and being in the world. I had been encouraged to go beyond the commonly accepted and interrogate the taken for granted in society; perceiving the conditions, values and experiences that shape human behaviour, and how individuals used materials to construct their lives. Whether that was demystifying diverse eating practices, initiation rituals or how groups formed relationships of exchange, it required situating behaviours in a specific time and cultural context. Approaching such events relied on placing the subject of interest and their values at the centre of analysis and comparison, to understand things in their terms. I soon realised that this process provided the foundation of the research being undertaken. Both between the researcher and interlocutor in the field, and the network of varied skilled academics and students that made up the research teams at university, collaboration underpinned their ability to produce meaningful knowledge.
Leaving university I had been inspired to experience how knowledge could be applied to the solution of human problems. Joining the Centre for Public Health provided me with the chance to further develop my skills and work within a research department tackling health issues in local communities.
Initially, a daily routine of processing and analysing data, and producing reports for external partners led to a sense of disconnection from the people and issues behind these statistics. I began to wonder how much of the research and work was initiated top down perhaps at odds with the lived experiences of the subjects involved.
However, as I became immersed within the centre and have been able to witness the practices and values of the team around me I saw how the seemingly disconnected teams of statisticians, researchers, and administrators were embedded within a wider network. I observed how diverse skill sets are incorporated to tackle challenges, where the work of one team underpins and enables the work of another.
Working daily with different groups, such as those on the front line of emergency department or partners in community intervention organisations it became apparent that the needs of those affected by issues in daily life shaped the actions and values of those at the centre. As I witnessed, the taken for granted of our daily routines concealed a backstage of multiple actors that worked collaboratively to affect meaningful change in the lives of those people they studied.
As science evolves with new technology and an increasing varied society to become multi-faceted in its approach, increased collaboration provides the means through which advances are made. Indeed the progress of scientific knowledge in society can be viewed not as the intrinsic success of a particular method or model but the ability for multiple talented groups and individuals to contribute to and rigorously reassess the work of contemporaries and predecessors under shared principles and values.
The Centre for Public Health is situated at the heart of a complex web between those on the front line of health issues and the institutions seeking to affect change, utilising the skills of diverse set of people to respond to the needs of those in society. To witness the vital and impressive work that is undertaken by my colleagues and partners provides a sense connection and identity, where my own position fits into this wider collaborative network.
“No man is an island, entire of itself…” John Donne.