Towards a feminist philosophy of engagements in health-related research

Erikainen, Sonja and Stewart, Ellen and Marques Filipe, Anglea and Chan, Sarah and Cunningham-Burley, Sarah and Ilson, Sophie and King, Gabrielle and Porteous, Carol and Sinclair, Stephanie and Webb, Jamie (2022) Towards a feminist philosophy of engagements in health-related research. Wellcome Open Research, 6. 58. ISSN 2398-502X (

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Engagement with publics, patients, and stakeholders is an important part of the health research environment today,and different modalities of 'engaged' health research have proliferated in recent years. Yet, there is no consensus on what, exactly, 'engaging' means, what it should look like, and what the aims, justifications, or motivations for it should be. In this paper, we set out what we see as important, outstanding challenges around the practice and theory of engaging and consider the tensions and possibilities that the diverse landscape of engaging evokes. We examine the roots, present modalities and institutional frameworks that have been erected around engaging, including how they shape and delimit how engagements are framed, enacted, and justified. We inspect the related issue of knowledge production within and through engagements, addressing whether engagements can, or should, be framed as knowledge producing activities. We then unpack the question of how engagements are or could be valued and evaluated, emphasising the plural ways in which 'value' can be conceptualised and generated. We conclude by calling for a philosophy of engagements that can capture the diversity of related practices, concepts and justifications around engagements, and account for the plurality of knowledges and value that engagements engender, while remaining flexible and attentive to the structural conditions under which engagements occur. Such philosophy should be a feminist one, informed by feminist epistemological and methodological approaches to equitable modes of research participation, knowledge production, and valuing. Especially, translating feminist tools of reflexivity and positionality into the sphere of engagements can enable a synergy of empirical, epistemic and normative considerations in developing accounts of engaging in both theory and praxis. Modestly, here, we hope to carve out the starting points for this work.