The Conversation

From April 2017, Josephine Lethbridge will be The Conversation’s Interdisciplinary Editor, funded by the ISRF. Josephine’s role will include working with scholars at The Conversation’s member universities, as well as past and present Fellows of the ISRF, to bring interdisciplinary social research to millions of readers worldwide.

Any ISRF Fellows wishing to pitch an idea for an article to Josephine, or simply interested in knowing more, should contact her directly at

Recent Articles

From Ayurveda to biomedicine: understanding the human body
Suzanne Newcombe, The Open University

What is a human body? This may seem a facetious question, but the answer will be very different according to which medical tradition you consult. Take Ayurveda, a traditional system of medical knowledge from India which has enjoyed a renaissance of popularity in the West since the 1980s – and is the subject of a new exhibition at London’s Wellcome Collection.

Walking round the show, one is encouraged to explore different ways of understanding and visualising the human body. The Ayurvedic body differs significantly from that of European biomedicine, which is based on dissection. The Ayurvedic body is a body of systems. It is conceptualised as being composed of five constituent parts (mahābūta), seven body substances (dhātu) and three regulating qualities (doṣa). According to Ayurvedic theory, by attending to imbalances between these principles in a body, health might be promoted and illness avoided. The Ayurvedic concepts of the doṣasvata, pitta and kapha can be seen in the West today promoting teas, soaps and massages.

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Why we need to talk about incontinence
Dani J Barrington & Pete Culmer, University of Leeds

We rarely hear or speak about incontinence. But the condition – the involuntary loss of urine or faecal matter – is frighteningly common.

Incontinence does not know wealth divides. It brings profound personal and socio-economic consequences across the income spectrum and around the world. Best estimates reveal that about 8% of adults experience faecal incontinence, increasing to 15% for those over 70 years. Urinary incontinence is even more prevalent, affecting approximately 24% of men and 53% of women (the condition is more prevalent in women due to strong causative links with childbirth). It is equally prevalent in lower income countries.

Incontinence is a symptom which can have many underlying causes. It can result from a weakened pelvic floor (often resulting from childbirth), obstetric fistula, cancer, bladder or bowel dysfunction, emotional distress and many other conditions. And it can be traumatising regardless of where you call home.

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The good news about plastic waste
Deirdre McKay |  Keele University

Waste plastics contaminate our food, water and air. Many are calling for a global ban on single-use plastics because throwing them “away” often means into our river systems and then into the world’s oceans.

Take the UK’s single-use plastic bottles: it’s estimated that 35m are used – and discarded – each day, but only 19m are recycled. The 16m bottles that aren’t recycled go to incinerators, landfill or the environment, even though, being PET (polyethylene terephthalate) they are easily reprocessed. Even those bottles that are placed in the recycle stream may be shipped to Asia, in a global market for waste plastics that is itself leaky.

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Why is it nice to be nice? Solving Darwin’s puzzle of kindness
Eva M Krockow, Andrew M Colman & Briony Pulford | University of Leicester

World Kindness Day is a global 24-hour celebration dedicated to paying-it-forward and focusing on the good. We are encouraged to perform acts of kindness such as giving blood, cleaning a communal microwave at work, or volunteering at a nursing home.

Of course, even without the encouragement of an international awareness day, kindness and selflessness are widespread among both humans and animals. Many people donate to charity and feel significantly happier as a direct result of doing so. In the animal kingdom, many species show kindness by refraining from violence when settling conflicts. Instead they may use comparatively harmless fighting conventions. Typical examples include male fiddler crabs fighting over a burrowbut never crushing each other’s bodies with their huge pincers, rattlesnakes wrestling without ever biting each other or Bonobos helping strangers even without being asked.

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Unless we regain our historic awe of the deep ocean, it will be plundered
Tania Douglas, University of Cape Town

In the memorable second instalment of Blue Planet II, we are offered glimpses of an unfamiliar world – the deep ocean. The episode places an unusual emphasis on its own construction: glimpses of the deep sea and its inhabitants are interspersed with shots of the technology – a manned submersible – that brought us these astonishing images. It is very unusual and extremely challenging, we are given to understand, for a human to enter and interact with this unfamiliar world.

The most watched programme of 2017 in the UK, Blue Planet II provides the opportunity to revisit questions that have long occupied us. To whom does the sea belong? Should humans enter its depths? These questions are perhaps especially urgent today, when Nautilus Minerals, a mining company registered in Vancouver, has been granted a license to extract gold and copper from the seafloor off the coast of Papua New Guinea. Though the company has suffered some setbacks, mining is still scheduled to begin in 2019.

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The world is in economic, political and environmental gridlock – here’s why
Stephen Linstead, University of York
Garance Maréchal, University of Liverpool

The crisis of contemporary democracy has become a major subject of political science in recent years. Despite this, the symptoms of this crisis – the vote for Brexit and Trump, among others – were not foreseen. Nor were the underlying causes of this new constellation of politics.

Focusing on the internal development of national polities alone, as has typically been the trend in academia, does not help us unlock the deep drivers of change. It is only at the intersection of the national and international, of the nation-state and the global, that the real reasons can be found for the retreat to nationalism and authoritarianism.

In 2013, we argued that the concept of “gridlock” is the key to understanding why we are at a crossroads in global politics. Gridlock, we contended, threatens the hold and reach of the post-World War II settlement and, alongside it, the principles of the democratic project and global cooperation. Four years on, we have published a new bookexploring how we might tackle this situation.

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Josephine Lethbridge
Interdisciplinary Editor

About Josephine

Josephine Lethbridge became Interdisciplinary Editor at The Conversation after over three years as the UK’s initial Arts + Culture Editor. As well as articles on new research, she also commissioned academics to write commentary on popular culture news and to review films and art exhibitions.

Josephine has an MA in English Literature from the University in Glasgow, and since autumn 2015 has also been studying part-time towards an MSc in Science, Technology and Society at UCL, which she will complete in September 2017. She is mostly looking at the history of the idea of going to war on global warming and visions of geoengineering the climate. These diverse interests mean that she is thrilled to have become The Conversation’s first Interdisciplinary Editor.

In her spare time, Josephine enjoys going to the cinema and exploring London’s industrial history. She is also a trustee of the Queille Trust, which organises a biennial arts festival in the south of France and aims to support the careers of emerging performers. She lives in south east London.