Wednesday 3 January 2024

Eleanor Byrne joins EPIC!

Eleanor Byrne will join project EPIC in 2024 as a research fellow in the Philosophy Department at the University of Birmingham. Here she tells us about her research and her interest in epistemic injustice.

Ellie Byrne

Hi Ellie! What are your main research interests?

Hi! I’m a philosopher working mainly in the philosophy of medicine and psychiatry. Within this, I focus primarily on the emotions and the types of medical conditions where there appear to be strong affective components that are not very well understood. 

My PhD focused on fatigue syndromes, and my first postdoc in Sweden focused on Long Covid. I have since been working a little bit on non-epileptic seizures. This understanding gap about the affective lives of patients relates to a host of scientific and social issues which I seek to unpick philosophically. 

Often with tools from phenomenology and the enactivist tradition under my arm, I try to develop a more complex and dynamic framework for understanding the emotions in medicine. My first explicit attempt at that can be found here. I also do a little bit of work on grief, emotion regulation and narrative.

Why do you think it is important to study epistemic injustice in healthcare?

A consistent theme in my own research is how lack of understanding about the emotions in illness causes a significant epistemic burden for patients. For instance, Long Covid patients with anxiety and depression symptoms are often stuck trying to arbitrate between competing explanations about what causes their symptoms, which nonetheless do not seem fully satisfactory. Uncertainty and confusion about one’s emotional life also brings challenges for one’s self-concept: is this the virus or is it me? Who am I now? This epistemic burden relates to all manner of epistemic injustices in healthcare which deserve careful study.

What I find exciting about the study of epistemic injustice in healthcare is how it is progressing: it’s incredibly encouraging to see new distinctions and concepts are coming to fruition that enable us to better capture a subtle dynamic or problem that has long caused significant harm and suffering. I think there is remarkable ameliorative potential, as well as philosophical interest, in the study of epistemic injustice in healthcare.

What are you working on right now?

I’m currently working on a newer concept intricately connected to epistemic injustice: affective injustice. These are injustices that relate to how a persons’s emotions are given (or denied) uptake by others. Uptake failures generally reflect credibility deficits. For instance, the anger of a woman will be given less uptake than the anger of a man because being a woman affords her less credibility.

I am developing a framework of affective injustice that is sensitive to not only discrete emotions like anger, but also to longer-term and diffuse affective experiences like moods, malaises and existential feelings. These affective experiences are common in illness, and failures to give such experiences uptake is responsible for a significant amount of suffering, alienation, shame and self-concept distress. I hope that this work can be a useful part of the wider project goal to develop ameliorative strategies for epistemic injustices in healthcare.

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