Reclaiming Patient Narrative: Interrogating the Patient Experience of Genetic Conditions through Film – Fine Art PhD; Emma O’Connor

I came to Sheffield in the autumn of 2012 to follow an MA in Fine Art at Sheffield Hallam University.  Having enjoyed the teaching on the Masters, I decided to stay and began an AHRC funded PhD at Sheffield Hallam in October 2013, whilst also teaching part-time at the University of Sheffield.

As an undergraduate I studied philosophy at St Andrews University. There I became interested in Philosophy of Mind and Phenomenology, completing a dissertation in my final year on the ‘Individuation of the Senses’.  My art practice is naturally informed by my philosophical training and thinking; it has evolved instinctively as a way of engaging with the world that surrounds me.

Since graduating from St Andrews, I trained as a teacher and with a PGCE and a CELTA, I was able to work and live abroad in Spain, the Gambia, and Argentina.  In 2003 I decided to dedicate more time to my art education and achieved a distinction in Art Foundation from Loughborough University School of Art and Design.  I later went on to study a Postgraduate Diploma at Chelsea School of Art and Design where I worked in still and moving image, with text and performance. Personal, often hidden narratives provided the starting point for my work and I used semi-fictional stories, which blur the lines of reality, to liberate these narratives.

The focus of my Practice-based PhD (“Reclaiming Patient Narrative: Interrogating the Patient Experience of Genetic Conditions through Film”) is to employ filmmaking to explore the relations between the patient experience, its representation, and its communication as narrative. Patient narrative is understood as the means by which a patient experience is told, making it both recognisable and of interest to the medical community. I ask how patient narrative can be explored through film, unravelling the concept of patient narrative, and proposing that the structure and particularity of filmmaking reveals the elements of individual patient narratives, often cited as ineffable. In the context of imposed genetic diagnosis, the retelling of patient narratives through film presents the possibility for the reclamation of this narrative through its reconstruction.

My experience of Hereditary Diffuse Gastric Cancer informs my PhD research and provides a site for my investigations into patient narrative.  Employed in many different fields, narrative lies at some exciting disciplinary intersections, and in my PhD I draw from theorists, methodologies and texts from a range of disciplines including fine art and filmmaking, psychoanalytic theory, philosophy, medicine, and healthcare.

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