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Staff profiles

Dr Michael Flexer

Lecturer

I am a lecturer in English and currently the director for engagement at the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health, where I was previously the publicly engaged research fellow in the Wellcome-funded Waiting Times project led by Professor Laura Salisbury (Exeter) and Professor Lisa Baraitser (Birkbeck).  

You can visit the project website here to see some of the stories co-created with various publics, or hear me talk about the project on BBC Radio 3 here.

My research and teaching interests include: semiotics; mental health and particularly 'psychosis'; time; the medical encounter and diagnosis; Marxist and (post)structuralist critical theories.  

I've published on politics in the time of Covid-19, Kurt Vonnegut, Marge Piercy, Charles Peirce's semiotics, the medical case report as a literary genre and the varying formulations of the contested diagnosis of 'schizophrenia'.

My monograph on the semiotics of schizophrenia - The Madness of Meaning - is forthcoming from Liverpool University Press.

Research interests

My research interests are: semiotics, structuralism and post-structuralism; medical semiotics; illness narratives; film and psychosis; literature and mental health; critical history of medicine and psychiatry; the politics of mental health care, including decarceration; the medical case report; contemporary European drama.

I am currently working on the Waiting Times project, funded by the Wellcome Trust and led by Laura Salisbury (Exeter) and Lisa Baraitser (Birkbeck).

Research supervision

I am very keen to supervise interdisciplinary PhDs, particularly those with either (or both) a medical humanities and public engagement element. If you are thinking of doing some engaged, critical medical humanities work, do contact me by email to discuss your proposal, as I am co-director for engagement at the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Enviroments of Health and may be able to support you in finding a supervisory team.

I am looking to supervise PhDs on:

  • medical humanities
  • mental health and 'psychosis'
  • diagnostic categories and contested diseases
  • epistemic (in)justice and health
  • medical case reports as literary genre
  • illness writing, end-of-life narratives and pathography
  • semiotics (Saussurean and Peircean)
  • structuralism and post-structuralist thought, especially Deleuze and Guattari

In the first instance, email me with a brief (less than 500 word) outline of your proposed research topic and a copy of your CV.

External impact and engagement

I am the director of engagement at the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health.  I am committed to producing research that is engaged, in a democratic and egalitarian way, with publics from beginning to end.

As part of the Waiting Times project I have developed story telling and sharing workshops with:

  • staff, carers and service users at Hospiscare day hospice in Honiton
  • students at InFocus school in Exeter
  • young mental health service users in Hackney, East London
  • residents with care needs in Anchor Housing Association accommodation in London
  • online communities experiencing isolation or ill health during the Covid-19 pandemic
  • staff and patients at GP practices

I've also helped organise events including a 70th birthday celebration for the NHS at Exeter Central Library (2018) and a film screening at MakeTank arts space (2020), and ran a stall at the EU Futures Pop Up Shop in 2021.

Media

I contributed to the BBC Radio 3 Arts and Ideas podcast on waiting in June 2022.  You can listen to it here.

You can also hear some of the stories from the Waiting Times 'Messages in Bottles' project in collaboration with Hospiscare here.

Teaching

Teaching experience

I taught Drama and Theatre Studies A-Level at Barnet FE College from 2006-2010.  At University of Leeds, I taught the first year drama module and the second year Shakespeare module.

For two years, I taught psycholinguistics at Sheffield Hallam University, and supervised student dissertations. 

At Imperial, I taught on a range of medical humanities topics including: anatomy and the history of the human body; critical histories of medicine; the history of psychiatry and neurology; politics and anti-psychiatry; cultural representations of mental health; medicalisation of death; medical semiotics.

Teaching approach

I believe in creating a lively discursive classroom environment, teaching and learning dialectically with the students.  I often incorporate drama techniques, with role plays, improvisations and mini-plays, and enjoy stimulating debate and dissent.  I am a committed educationalist, having taught in secondary schools and tertiary education and serving as a primary school governor for five years.

Modules taught

Biography

I studied for BA at St. Hugh's College, Oxford and then completed an MA in Advanced Theatre Practice at Central School of Speech and Drama.

After working for nearly 10 years as a dramatist with my own small theatre company, and as a practicising semiotician, I returned to academia in 2010.  I studied for my MSc in Medical Humanities at King's College, London and was awarded the inaugural medical humanities PhD studentship at the University of Leeds Centre for Medical Humanities in 2012.  

My PhD was an interdisciplinary piece of research into representations (cultural, medical and testimonial) of psychosis.  I was cross-supervised by Professor Stuart Murray in the School of English and Professor Allan House in the Institute of Health Sciences.

In 2016, I completed a post-doc at King's College, London with Professor Brian Hurwitz.  I worked in the English department at Sheffield Hallam from 2016-2017, convening the psycholinguistics module, and immediately prior to my appointment at Exeter, I worked as a Teaching Fellow at Imperial College, London, designing their new BSc in Medical Sciences with Humanities, Philosophy and Law.