Academics typically rely on a journal article to call for a shift in their discipline’s research agenda. But for Marisa de Andrade, it seemed much more fitting to use a hip hop song.
The verses of Being Human, the result of the Measuring Humanity project led by Dr de Andrade at the University of Edinburgh, argue that public health researchers will fail to genuinely capture the perspectives of the communities that they are studying if they rely on traditional approaches such as surveys and interviews.
Dr de Andrade, lecturer in health, science and society at Edinburgh, believes that academics should use media that connect with their subjects – such as hip hop.
The lyrics of Being Human, written and performed by Belle Jones and Lauren Gilmour, draw on the input of black and ethnic minority participants to highlight how attempts to improve health services misrepresent society’s most marginalised communities.
“I’m not used to putting emotions on a scale/To choose if I’m a six or eight requires more detail”, says one line, while another sums it up as follows: “These sentiments aren’t easy to categorise/Sometimes it’s easier to spin out white lies/There are things I just don’t want to share about myself/I don’t think I fit into the boxes on your shelf.”
In an accompanying article published in The Lancet – which, albeit in a more traditional medium, manages to quote rapper Tupac Shakur – Dr de Andrade says that policymakers and academics need to “reassess what counts as evidence”.
“Conventional public health research generally shuns data unless they are in standard scientific forms, even if unacceptable to a community that speaks another language or is unable or unwilling to express itself in traditionally academic ways,” she warns.
Measuring Humanity, in contrast, has used techniques such as poetry, singing, theatre and writing workshops to generate insights into what health services would look like if disadvantaged communities in Edinburgh and Dundee had been put in charge of them.
“The arts and act of humans coming together in community provide missing pieces of evidence that must be understood to tackle complex health problems,” says Dr de Andrade. “By privileging the person’s voice, a richer understanding emerges of complex, deep-rooted reasons for ill health…There is a need for engagement and data collection through whatever creative or relational form is valid and appropriate for communities.”
However, Dr de Andrade highlights that projects drawing on such techniques rely on the goodwill of community leaders and charities and, crucially, sustained funding. Hence, there is a risk that, just as findings start to emerge, funding runs out and reports are shelved and proposed interventions are suspended.