Health Technology and Society (HTS) research group

The Health Technology & Society (HTS) research group serves as a focus for interdisciplinary research involving social aspects of emerging medical technologies, particularly those relating to diagnosis and intervention, at the University of Exeter and beyond. Headed by HTS Director Susan Kelly, the group comprises a number of full time staff and research fellows working on a variety of projects, collaborations, and funding applications linked by a common emphasis on the social aspects of technological innovation in the life sciences, health and medicine.

Growing out of the ESRC Centre for Genomics in Society (Egenis), we have considerable expertise studying the role of genetics/genomics in diagnosis, health systems, and experiences of patients, consumers, families and health care professionals.  However, our work is not limited to this remit; recent HTS work has dealt with issues of early childhood diagnosis, mental health and the emergence of ‘pre-disease’ risk-based categories in healthcare.

The group held its inaugural symposium in May 2012 with the theme Bridging the gap between the sociologies of diagnosis and intervention. The symposium was supported by a grant from the Foundation for the Sociology of Health and Illness.

Our growing network of collaborators and affiliates spans from the regional (e.g. the Health, Ethics and Society research group at the University of the West of England) to the global (Center for Biomedical Ethics & Society at Vanderbilt University).

Diagnostic technologies and the effects they produce are one of the core themes of ongoing HTS research.

Diagnosis can be broadly understood as a social process, defining the boundary between sickness and wellness, the normal and the pathological. Diagnostic categories and procedures have profound implications for the social experience, self understanding, health outcomes and behaviour of individuals and families. Diagnoses can be welcome, offering understanding, the possibility of treatment and ‘returning to normal’, but can also bring social stigma, as with many mental illnesses, or convey tacit moral judgements about behaviour or lifestyle (e.g. clinical obesity).

From the stethoscope and the x-ray to MRI scans and genome sequencing, diagnostic technologies are at the forefront of how modern medicine categorises and defines bodies and diseases and how disease categories come to be understood by patients, physicians and the public. Work undertaken by HTS members examines how emerging diagnostic technologies contribute to shaping social processes of diagnosis, providing new — or reinforcing existing — classifications of disease and illness, identities and experiences, with consequences for understanding the dynamics of diagnostic practices. We focus on how technologies create, reframe and highlight particular diagnoses and what drives the development of new technologies. Examples of current and completed HTS projects can be found under the Projects tab.

Indicative research questions

  • How do diagnostic technologies affect diagnostic practices?
  • How do new forms of expertise impact upon working relationships?
  • How are increasingly complex pathways to diagnosis experienced by patients?
  • What are drivers and consequences of innovations in diagnostic technologies?
  • Can a critical sociology of diagnosis speak to conventional health technology assessment programmes?
  • How can we foster interdisciplinary collaborations to address these questions?  

Dr Susan Kelly (Director)
Egenis, the Centre for the study of Life Sciences, University of Exeter

Dr Hannah Farrimond (Lecturer in Medical Sociology)
College of Social Sciences and International Studies 
Egenis, the Centre for the study of Life Sciences, University of Exeter

Dr Nina Hallowell (Social Science and Ethics Consultant) Nuffield Department of Popultation Health, Oxford University 

Dr Rachel Jarvie (Teaching Fellow)
College of Social Sciences and International Studies, University of Exeter 

Dr Ginny Russell (Research Fellow)
University of Exeter Medical School 
Egenis, the Centre for the study of Life Sciences, University of Exeter

Dr Dana Wilson-Kovacs (Lecturer)
College of Social Sciences and International Studies, University of Exeter

HTS affiliates

Dr Daniele Carrieri
Egenis, the Centre for the study of the Life Sciences

Dr Christopher Elphick
Egenis,the Centre for the study of the Life Sciences

Dr Jean Harrington
Kings College London; previously Egenis, University of Exeter

Dr Anna Harris
Department of Technology and Society Studies, Maastricht University

Dr Naomi Hawkins
Science, Culture and the Law at Exeter (SCuLE), School of Law, University of Exeter

Dr Sabina Leonelli
Egenis, the Centre for the study of Life Sciences, University of Exeter

Dr Michael Morrison
Centre for Health, Law and Emerging Technologies (HeLEX), University of Oxford;
previously Egenis, University of Exeter

Dr Mila Petrova
Department of Applied Health and Primary Care, University of Cambridge;
previously Egenis, University of Exeter

Dr Ernesto Schwartz-Marin
Race, Genomics & Mestizaje research group, Social Anthropology, University of Manchester

Professor Heather Skirton
Professor in Health Genetics, School of Nursing and Midwifery, University of Plymouth

Affiliate groups

Applied Health Genetics
Research group at the School for Biomedical and Biological Sciences, Plymouth University

Biomedical Ethics & Society
Center for Biomedical Ethics & Society, Institute for Medicine and Public Health, Vanderbilt University

CIRGE
Center for the Integration of Research on Genetics and Ethics, Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics, Stanford University

Health, Ethics & Society
Research group in Health and Clinical Research, Health and Life sciences, University of the West of England

HeLEX
Research centre for Health, Law and Emerging Technologies, Department of Public Health, Oxford University

Inaugural Symposium 10 May 2012: Bridging the Gaps Between the Sociologies of Diagnostics and Intervention

Overview of the Symposium

As the group’s first public event, the HTS members chose to hold a one day symposium on the theme ‘bridging the gaps between the sociologies of diagnosis and intervention’. The topic was chosen to reflect the group’s core interests in technology, innovation and diagnosis, with a particular emphasis in engaging with the contemporary sociology of diagnosis.

There has been a recent resurgence of interest in diagnosis as a topic of sociological study, driven, in particular, by the work of Dr Annemarie Jutel of the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. Aligning as it does with our own interests, members of the HTS group have welcomed Dr Jutel’s work and are currently collaborating with Dr Jutel and a range of colleagues across the UK on a forthcoming ESRC seminar series entitled ‘The role of diagnosis in health and wellbeing: A social science perspective on the social, economic and political costs and consequences of diagnosis’.

However, we also wanted to use the opportunity of our first public event to address a relevant gap in current sociological knowledge and to build a platform for future work. In developing our ideas for the symposium we recognised that both the theoretical and practical linkage between diagnosis and clinical intervention remains comparatively under-researched and under-theorised. Examples of pertinent research questions include:

  • If new diagnostic technologies measure and visualise the diseased body in new ways, how this affect the way(s) in which the disease is then understood, treated and managed by patients and healthcare professionals?
  • Do novel technologies and changing diagnostic categories have implications for the workload of different healthcare professionals such as doctors, nurses, laboratory technicians etc and do they affect the ways in which patients understand themselves or how they are regarded by other groups in society?
  • Does diagnosis always lead directly to intervention, and if so how is uncertainty managed in practice?

Given this focus, the symposium set out to bring together scholars in the sociologies of medicine, health and illness to address this gap and develop an agenda for further research in this area.

Format of the event

The symposium was organised into morning and afternoon sessions, with the morning session involving an introduction and opening discussion from HTS Director Susan Kelly and presentations from three invited speakers:

The afternoon session took the form of a workshop where participants were divided into smaller groups to discuss themes from the morning’s presentations in the context of their own work and put forward ideas on novel directions for future research on diagnosis and intervention. We are pleased to report that the event was well attended and generated a lively and collegial debate.

The major findings of the symposium can be downloaded in the HTS Symposium short report.

Additional Resources

An important goal of the inaugural HTS symposium was to provide a platform for future research and to ensure that the many insightful contributions and discussions that occurred during the event are not lost. To this end, we are committed to making as much useful material from the event as possible available through this webpage.

  • A full report on the event, including speaker biographies, summaries of the key presentations, and a full account of the output of the workshop session including an agenda for future research, is available here.
  • PDF documents containing the slides for each of the morning presentations are available to download by clicking on the presentation titles. These slides are intended to be used together with the written reports on the event.

We also welcome further enquiries and feedback about the symposium or any of the issues raised in our reports: Please contact us via email at hts-research-group@exeter.ac.uk.

The Health, Technology and Society inaugural symposium was generously supported by a grant from the Foundation for the Sociology of Health & Illness.

Projects

Exploring Diagnosis: Autism and the Neurodiversity Movement

Ginny Russell
Wellcome Trust
2015 - 2020

Regulating Umbilical Cord Blood Biobanking in Europe

Christine Hauskeller
European Commission (H2020)
2015 - 2017

Gender stereotypes in ADHD diagnosis

Ginny Russell
Wellcome Trust
2015 - 2015

The Role of Diagnosis in Health and Wellbeing

Susan Kelly
ESRC
2012 - 2014

One Day Symposium: Bridging the gap between the Sociologies of Diagnosis and Intervention

Susan Kelly
Foundation for the Sociology of Health and Illness
2012 - 2012

Prediabetes family study

Hannah Farrimond
Richard Benjamin Trust
2011 - 2012

Understandings of Type 2 Diabetes in 'at risk' families

Hannah Farrimond
Richard Benjamin Trust
2010 - 2012