Beckett and Brain Science

Exploratory Award

Project Team:

Principal Investigator:

Dr Elizabeth Barry, University of Warwick


Dr Laura Salisbury, University of Exeter (formerly Birkbeck, University of London)

Dr Ulrika Maude, University of Bristol (formerly University of Reading),

Jonathan Heron (IATL Fellow, Warwick),

Dr Matthew Broome (Warwick Medical School)

AHRC Beckett and Brain Science at University of Warwick, September 2012
Image credit:
AHRC Beckett and Brain Science at University of Warwick, September 2012;
Performance/workshop created by Jonathan Heron, Fail Better Productions;
Photography by Peter Marsh, ashmorevisuals

Award Information:

This project focused on exploring the application of the work of Samuel Beckett to understand mental and neurological disorders, and to challenge the traditional narratives used in art and medicine to describe them. This was a collaborative project involving literary and theatrical scholars and clinicians and researchers in psychiatry and neuroscience.

The project used Beckett’s work as a test case to ask specific questions of the relationship between literature, theatre and the scientific and medical understanding of the mind. Three trans-disciplinary workshops involving scholars and practitioners in the arts and sciences gave an intellectual framework to the intuition of many clinicians that literature offers a means to understand challenging mental conditions. Dialogue with clinical experts in turn offered humanities researchers new lexicons for explaining and describing human experience, producing substantial new interdisciplinary research. Methodological advances were also made, with the development of a pedagogical performance workshop based on Beckett’s work and designed for doctors and medical trainees. Offering a new model of embodied learning, this work has inspired medical educators in attendance to take similar events onto the wards and offer humanities-based medical training delivered by members of the project group.

Further information:

A Case Study (PDF) of this AHRC Science in Culture Theme Exploratory Award is available to download here.

Project dates: February- September 2012