Material and epistemic precarity: it’s time to talk about labour exploitation in mental health research

Papoulias, S. (C.) and Callard, F. (2022) Material and epistemic precarity: it’s time to talk about labour exploitation in mental health research. Social Science and Medicine, 306, 115102. (doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2022.115102)

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The conditions under which people labour in mental health research affect how and what knowledge is produced – and who benefits or doesn't from involvement in health research systems. There has been, however, little sustained investigation of the uneven modalities of labour exploitation across what are increasingly financialised systems of mental health research. This theoretical paper advances conceptual and empirical investigations of labour in health research – outlining how material precarity and epistemic precarity often go hand in hand, and largely drawing on examples from the UK. The intertwining of labour relations and epistemic cultures can be understood by bringing together insights from two bodies of knowledge not commonly in contact with one another – survivor/service user research and critical research on universities and academic labour. The article addresses how mental health research makes significant use of the labour of (i) contract researchers (many of whom work on precarious and exploitative contracts); (ii) lay contributors (through ‘patient and public involvement’); and (iii) research participants (where the conditions underpinning participation in various kinds of research increasingly blur the distinction between volunteering, and ‘gig’ work). Labour relations affect, and are affected by, efforts to change epistemic cultures and reduce epistemic inequalities, and epistemic and material precarity make efforts to improve research culture much more difficult. Those experiencing both material and epistemic precarity in health research systems need to be at the heart of efforts to combat both.

Item Type:Articles
Keywords:Academic labour, contract researcher, exploitation, health research systems, precarity, research culture, survivor researcher, user-led research.
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Callard, Professor Felicity
Creator Roles:
Callard, F.Conceptualization, Methodology, Investigation, Writing – original draft, Writing – review and editing, Project administration, Funding acquisition
Authors: Papoulias, S. (C.), and Callard, F.
College/School:College of Science and Engineering > School of Geographical and Earth Sciences
Journal Name:Social Science and Medicine
ISSN (Online):1873-5347
Published Online:02 June 2022
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2022 The Authors
First Published:First published in Social Science and Medicine 306:115102
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons licence

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