One time my gut and psyche talked to each other

Research output: Book/ReportPh.D. thesisResearch

This dissertation started from a fascination with the microbes that live in the human gut and their connection with mental health. How can we talk about this connection? What hopes and imaginaries about a healthy life arise when microbes are connected with mental health? How do we, more broadly, make sense of the body and psyche? The dissertation takes these questions as a point of departure for exploring personal experiences of the connection between gut and psyche, and developed collective memory-work (Haug et al., 1999) as methodology in a museum context. Research participants wrote memories under the topic One time my gut and psyche talked to each other… and became co-researchers in the exploration of their own and each other’s personal memories. The dissertation is based on empirical material from three memory-work groups with adult participants. The material includes the 16 memories that the participants explored, observations and transcripts of the group conversations. This transdisciplinary project was conducted at Medical Museion—a university museum and research unit at the Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen.

The dissertation poses three research questions: (1) What does microbiome research promise in terms of blurring distinctions between body, mind and environment, within the context of contemporary public health concerns? (2) How can collective memory-work facilitate the development of articulations that allow participants to develop sensibilities to often unarticulated experiences of how gut and psyche connect? (3) How do memory-work participants articulate experiences of gut-psyche connections and mobilize distinctions between body and mind, and with which implications for understandings of body, self and health?

The first research question is addressed via a narrative literature review, which explores promissory language around microbiome research in academic and popular science communication publications. The review situates the dissertation in relation to microbiome research and frames a methodological shift in the memory-work away from foregrounding discussion of the microbiome and towards exploring connections between gut and psyche. The second research question is primarily explored by conceptualizing memory-work as experimentation with articulating experiences of the gut, the psyche and how they connect. The third research question is answered by investigating when and with which implications memories about gut-psyche-connections create distinctions between body and psyche.

Key findings of the dissertation include the following: (1) The potentials of microbiome research are communicated in a promissory language, expressing promises of holism. The dissertation argues that this mobilization of the notion of holism poses challenges for understanding the complexity in concepts of the body, self and health in relation to microbiome research. Moreover, the promissory language increases and extend the suspense and impasse around the potentials of microbiome research. Doing so, provide ground for generating cruel optimism (Berlant, 2011). (2) Memory-work on gut and psyche actualize fundamental questions about our bodies, selves and health. This may give rise to new self-realizations for the memory-work participants and also actualize ethical dilemmas about the therapeutic and care-related matters of memory-work. The dissertation argues for addressing the ethical dilemmas in the memory-work collective; the dilemmas can become key in cultivating a response-able (Haraway, 2016) research practice when the participants experiment with articulating their experiences. Moreover, the dissertation shows how the cultivation of response-ability can be transformed and rearticulated as an ideal of care when presenting participant voices anew in an exhibition context. (3) The dissertation shows that memory-work on gut and psyche differ widely in form and content. Meanings of gut, psyche and how they connect cannot be presupposed. Instead, they illuminate how notions of gut and psyche can be employed to articulate the self and navigate social norms and expectations. More generally, the dissertation argues for recognizing (rather than limiting) these multiple and dynamic meanings in explorations of personal experiences of body, self and health.

The dissertation takes form as an article-based dissertation, with a synopsis and three articles. Theoretically, the dissertation places itself primarily in critical psychology and post-psychology, in addition to drawing connections to key themes in medical humanities, science and technology studies (STS) and feminist science studies. Beyond the specific findings outlined above, the contribution of the dissertation is to articulate and illustrate a research methodology for exploring situated, diverse and dynamic meanings of mind and body when they are mobilized to create meaning in personal experiences of the world.
Original languageEnglish
ISBN (Print)978-87-94336-77-2
Publication statusPublished - 2023

ID: 342093712