Health Technology and Society (HTS) research group

About the 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).

Technology, innovation and diagnosis

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?  

Contact us

We welcome enquiries about our work, expertise and possible collaborations. Please contact us via email at hts-research-group@exeter.ac.uk