Professor Brian Brown

Job: Professor of Health Communication

Faculty: Health and Life Sciences

School/department: School of Applied Social Sciences

Address: De Montfort, University, The Gateway, Leicester, LE1 9BH.

T: +44 (0)116 207 8755




Personal profile

The core of Prof Brown's work has focused on the interpretation of human experience across a variety of different disciplines including health care, philosophy, education and spirituality studies, exploring how this may be understood with a view to improving practice and with regard to theoretical development in the social sciences. Particularly, this concerns notions of governmentality and habitus from Foucauldian and Bourdieusian sociology and how the analysis of everyday experience can afford novel theoretical developments.

Prof Brown has completed twelve books and around seventy refereed journal articles. Most notably, his books have included Evidence based health communication (with P. Crawford and R. Carter, Open University Press, 2006) and Evidence based Research: Dilemmas and debates in health care (with P. Crawford and C. Hicks, Open University Press, 2003). As well as health care, his papers have ranged across fields such as linguistics, education and sociology.

Notably this has included The habitus of hygiene (with P. Crawford, B. Nerlich and N. Koteyko, Social Science and Medicine, Post antibiotic apocalypse’: Discourses of mutation in narratives of MRSA, (with Paul Crawford, Sociology of Health and Illness 31 (4): 508-524, Soft authority: Ecologies of infection management in the working lives of modern matrons and infection control staff, (with Paul Crawford, Sociology of Health and Illness, 30, (5): 756-771), The clinical governance of the soul (with Crawford, Social Science and Medicine 55: 67-81) and Clinical governmentality (with P. Crawford and L. Mullany, Journal of Applied Linguistics 2: 273-298).

Research group affiliations

  • Applied Social Sciences Research Group
  • Health Policy Research Unit

Publications and outputs

  • Multiple Mental Health Literacies in a Traditional Temple Site in Kerala: The Intersection between Beliefs, Spiritual and Healing Regimes
    dc.title: Multiple Mental Health Literacies in a Traditional Temple Site in Kerala: The Intersection between Beliefs, Spiritual and Healing Regimes Raghavan, Raghu; Horne, Francesca; Ram Kamal, Sreedevi; Parameswaran, Uma; Raghu, Ardra; Wilson, Amanda; Venkateswaran, Chitra; Svirydzenka, Nadia; Lakhanpaul, Monica; Dasan, Chandra; Brown, Brian J. dc.description.abstract: The notion of ‘mental health literacy’ has been proposed as a way of improving mental health problem recognition, service utilisation and reducing stigma. Yet the idea embodies a number of medical-model assumptions which are often at odds with diverse communities’ spiritual traditions and local belief systems. Twenty participants were recruited to this study consisting of mental health service users (N = 7), family carers (N = 8) and community members (N = 5) in a temple town in Kerala, South India participated in semi structured interviews exploring the variety of beliefs and practices relating to mental health. Our findings indicate that the issue may be better understood in terms of multiple mental health literacies which people deploy in different circumstances. Even those sceptical of traditional and spiritual approaches are knowledgeable about them, and the traditional practices themselves often involve detailed regimes of activities aimed at effecting an improvement in the person’s mood or condition. Therefore, we argue it is appropriate to consider mental health literacy not as a unitary universal phenomenon but instead as a mosaic of different literacies which may be deployed in different settings and in line with different experiences and which may operate in synergy with each other to enable treatment but also facilitate a sense of meaning and purpose in life. dc.description: The file attached to this record is the author's final peer reviewed version. The Publisher's final version can be found by following the DOI link.
  • Idioms of resilience: Mental health and migration in India
    dc.title: Idioms of resilience: Mental health and migration in India Raghavan, Raghu; Brown, Brian J.; Coope, Jonathan; Crossley, Mark; Sivakami, Muthusamy; Gawde, Nilesh; Pendse, Tejasi; Jamwal, Saba; Barrett, Andy; Dyalchand, Ashok; Chaturvedi, Santosh; Chowdary, Abijeet; Heblikar, Dhanashree dc.description.abstract: Background: Resilience has proved to be a versatile notion to explain why people are not defeated by hardship and adversity, yet so far, we know little of how it might apply to communities and cultures in low to middle income countries. Aim: This paper aims to explore the notion of resilience in cross-cultural context through considering the lived experience of internal migration. Methods: A sample of 30 participants with experience of migration was recruited from a low-income slum dwelling neighbourhood in the city of Pune, India. These individuals participated in biographical narrative interviews in which they were encouraged to talk about their experience of migration, their adaptation to life in their new environment and making new lives for themselves. Results: Participants referred to a variety of intra-individual and external factors that sustained their resilience, including acceptance of their circumstances, the importance of memory, hope for their children’s futures as well as kindness from family friends and community members and aspects of the physical environment which were conducive to an improvement in their lives. Conclusions: By analogy with the widely used term ‘idioms of distress’, we advocate attention to the locally nuanced and culturally inflected ‘idioms of resilience’ or ‘eudaemonic idioms’ which are of crucial importance as migration and movement become ever more prominent in discussions of human problems. The nature and extent of people’s coping abilities, their aspirations and strategies for tackling adversity, their idioms of resilience and eudaemonic repertoires merit attention so that services can genuinely support their adjustment and progress in their new-found circumstances. dc.description: The file attached to this record is the author's final peer reviewed version. The Publisher's final version can be found by following the DOI link.
  • Conflicting experiences of health and habitus in a poor urban neighbourhood: A Bourdieusian ethnography
    dc.title: Conflicting experiences of health and habitus in a poor urban neighbourhood: A Bourdieusian ethnography Scott-Arthur, Tom; Brown, Brian J.; Saukko, Paula dc.description.abstract: An ethnographic study of health and wellbeing was undertaken in a deprived urban neighbourhood in the UK Midlands. Drawing on Bourdieu's concepts of habitus, capital and field, we discerned three different, even conflicting, ways of understanding and acting on health: (i) older adults discussed their wellbeing in relation to the local context or field, walking the dog, helping at the community centre and visiting the off licence, (ii) young professionals and students who lived in the neighbourhood were oriented towards leisure facilities, career opportunities and supermarkets outside of the neighbourhood, disdaining local facilities and (iii) community activists and carers discussed health in terms of providing for others but not themselves. Bourdieu is frequently used in medical sociology to highlight how poor people's lifestyle is constrained by their habitus; we suggest paying more attention to its both enabling and differentiating contradictions as well as the constraints it entails. Empirically and in terms of health promotion findings suggest that supposedly healthy activities, such as going to the gym, may also be a means of rejecting the local community; similarly, older people's pottering about in the neighbourhood, which is not usually recognised as a healthy activity, may enhance wellbeing in this context. dc.description: open access article
  • Intimate citizenship and mental ill health: Informal carers’ accounts of romantic relationship difficulties of people with mental health problems
    dc.title: Intimate citizenship and mental ill health: Informal carers’ accounts of romantic relationship difficulties of people with mental health problems Brown, Brian J. dc.description.abstract: In this paper I take a relational approach to understanding the experiences of carers in enabling the ‘intimate citizenship’ of people with long-term mental health problems. This aspect of informal care has received little attention, yet the relational context in which intimacy occurs is important as a background to the more frequently addressed questions of sex and sexuality themselves. Thirty-one carers were asked about their experience of caring. Of those who were partners or spouses of the person cared for, a sense of diminished erotic capital and romantic potential appeared common. For those caring for a relative, there was a sense that their romantic opportunities were restricted and rendered risky by their mental health problems. The interviews suggest substantial relational activity is undertaken to make intimate life possible, which is an important area of investigation if we are to appreciate the barriers to sexual participation of people with mental health problems. dc.description: The file attached to this record is the author's final peer reviewed version. The Publisher's final version can be found by following the DOI link.
  • Introduction: Trauma and textualities
    dc.title: Introduction: Trauma and textualities Brown, Brian J.; Rodrigues, Ricardo; Baker, Charlotte; Crawford, Paul dc.description.abstract: This special issue of the Journal of Medical Humanities focuses on papers from an International Health Humanities Network conference held in Nottingham, UK. Informed by the centenary of World War I, the theme of ‘trauma’ was chosen, and the presentations over the lively three-day meeting included a wide range of topics such as trauma in literature and text; managing trauma in clinical practice related to domestic violence and abuse; a theatrical performance involving trauma, personal history and theory; and using humanities in clinical education to offer new ways of making sense of and addressing trauma. dc.description: Editorial for a special issue based on a health humanities conference we hosted at Nottingham.
  • The Routledge Companion to the Health Humanities
    dc.title: The Routledge Companion to the Health Humanities Crawford, Paul; Brown, Brian J.; Charise, Andrea dc.description.abstract: The health humanities is a rapidly rising field, advancing an inclusive, democratizing, activist, applied, critical, and culturally diverse approach to delivering health and well-being through the arts and humanities. It has generated new kinds of interdisciplinary research, knowledge, and communities of practice globally. It has also acted to bring greater coherence and political force to contributions across a range of related disciplines and traditions. In this volume, a formidable set of authors explore the history, current state, and future of the health humanities, in particular how its vision of the arts and humanities: Promotes creative public health. Opens new routes to health and well-being. Informs and drives better health care. Interrogates relationships between ill health and social equality. Develops humanist theory in relation to health and social care practice. Foregrounds cultural difference as a resource for positive change in society. Tests the humanity of an increasingly globalized health-care system. Looks to overcome structural and process obstacles to cross-disciplinary ventures. Champions co-construction, co-design, and mutuality in solving health and well-being challenges. Showcases less familiar, prominent, or celebrated creative practices. Includes multiple perspectives on the value and health benefits of the arts and humanities not limited to or dominated by medicine. Divided into two main sections, the Companion looks at "Reflections and Critical Perspectives," offering current thinking and definitions within health humanities, and "Applications," comprising a wide selection of applied arts and humanities practices from comedy, writing, and dancing to yoga, cooking, and horticultural display. dc.description: Edited book on various aspects of the health humanities
  • Resilience, mental health and urban migrants: a narrative review
    dc.title: Resilience, mental health and urban migrants: a narrative review Coope, Jonathan; Barrett, Andy; Brown, Brian J.; Crossley, Mark; Sivakami, Muthusamy; Raghavan, Raghu dc.description.abstract: The purpose of this paper is to provide a narrative review of the literature on mental health resilience and other positive mental health capacities of urban and internal migrants. The methodology for this narrative review included a search of articles published up to 2017. The abstracts were screened and relevant articles studied and discussed. Literature on the particular mental health challenges of urban migrants in India was also studied. References found in the literature relating to neuro-urbanism were also followed up to explore broader historical and conceptual contexts. Several key sources and resources for mental health resilience were identified – including familial and community networks and individual hope or optimism. Nevertheless, much of the literature tends to focus at the level of the individual person, even though ecological systems theory would suggest that mental health resilience is better understood as multi-layered i.e. relevant to, and impacted by, communities and broader societal and environmental contexts. This paper provides insight into an aspect of migrant mental health that has tended to be overlooked hitherto: the mental health resilience and positive mental health capacities of urban migrants. This is particularly relevant where professional ‘expert’ mental health provision for internal migrant communities is absent or unaffordable. Previous work has tended to focus predominantly on mental health risk factors, despite growing awareness that focusing on risk factors along can lead to an over-reliance on top-down expert-led interventions and overlook positive capacities for mental health that are sometimes possessed by individuals and their communities. dc.description: The file attached to this record is the author's final peer reviewed version. The Publisher's final version can be found by following the DOI link.
  • Responsibilization and recovery: shifting responsibilities on the journey through mental health care to social engagement
    dc.title: Responsibilization and recovery: shifting responsibilities on the journey through mental health care to social engagement Brown, Brian J. dc.description.abstract: This paper examines the trajectory of 32 service users through the mental health care system on the path to recovery. It offers a critical appraisal of the processes whereby mental health and social care services attempt to responsibilize the service user in the process of delivering recovery-oriented services. Responsibilization was often found to be onerous and counterproductive and appeared to work against their strivings for autonomy. Acting responsibly was aligned with following instructions from health professionals and managing the demands one made on services. By contrast, participants who described their involvement in civil society organisations described a good deal of effort on their own and other’s behalf, but this was not seen as burdensome, had a sense of being freely chosen and represented a source of satisfaction and accomplishment, scarcely felt as responsibility at all. Meaningful, purposive shared activity was more highly valued and enjoyed. Didactic responsibilization was something imposed on the abject or marginalised individual in the process of engaging with mental health services. However, beyond this, a number of participants had found a more subtle way of acting responsibly through civic engagement in the unmanaged spaces of social life. dc.description: The file attached to this record is the author's final peer reviewed version. The Publisher's final version can be found by following the DOI link.
  • Mental Health and the Media: From Illness to Wellbeing
    dc.title: Mental Health and the Media: From Illness to Wellbeing Atanasova, Dima; Koteyko, N.; Brown, Brian J.; Crawford, Paul dc.description.abstract: The media are a main source of information about mental health for many people and an ever-growing body of literature is evaluating their coverage of the topic. To help keep track of such research, several comprehensive but now dated literature reviews have been published. We assess more recent studies (2007-2017) and suggest future directions by integrating (1) the ‘circuit of mass communication’ model from media and communication studies which posits that production, content and reception need to be analysed for an in-depth understanding of the media, (2) the holistic view of mental health as comprising both illness and wellbeing and (3) the critical psychiatry literature questioning the assumptions underlying psychiatric knowledge and practice. We find that recent studies have focused on content and ‘the illness side’ of mental health by examining the representation of particular mental disorders and events involving individuals with specific diagnoses. We identify as a promising development the growing interest in ‘the wellbeing side’ of mental health whereby authors have started to analyse recovery messages. We invite more production and reception research and more critical content studies which use diagnostic labels cautiously and analyse the representation of people with mental health problems as the victims of violence. dc.description: The file attached to this record is the author's final peer reviewed version. The Publisher's final version can be found by following the DOI link.
  • Systematic review of applied theatre practice in the Indian context of mental health, resilience and well-being
    dc.title: Systematic review of applied theatre practice in the Indian context of mental health, resilience and well-being Crossley, Mark; Barrett, A.; Brown, Brian J.; Coope, J.; Raghavan, Raghu dc.description.abstract: This systematic review seeks to evaluate the documented uses of applied theatre practice within an Indian context. At its most particular level, the review focuses on theatre interventions within migrant slum (basti) communities and, where in evidence, the conjunction of applied theatre with research and practice from mental health and well-being, in exploring these latter issues within such communities and the level and modes of their resilience. The review also draws upon related global research to contextualise and inform the Indian context. At present, systematic reviews are not prevalent within the research fields of theatre or specifically applied theatre , yet such reviews arguably offer the breadth of objective evidence required to interrogate the efficacy of such practice. This review is therefore intended to rigorously map the existing academic research and the more diffuse online dialogues within India that are pertinent to the subject; to consider the relations, contradictions, absences and inconsistencies within this literature, and from this to articulate key findings that may be integrated into the planning and delivery of new initiatives within this field. In this regard it seeks to survey the current state of knowledge, identify problems, evaluate current theory as well as develop new theoretical paradigms.

View a full listing of Brown‘s publications and outputs.

Research interests/expertise

  • Health communication
  • Health policy
  • The historical sociology of Wales
  • Philosophy of Science
  • Epistemology
  • Social theory.

Areas of teaching

  • Theoretical and epistemological perspectives in the social sciences
  • Mental health issues,
  • Qualitative methodologies,
  • Sociology.

Current teaching includes:

  • Final year projects PSYC3000
  • Research designs in health HEST5001
  • Interpreting quantitative nd qualitative data HEST5016 
  • PhD, M.Res, MA and DHSci dissertations
  • University’s training programme for research students.



Conference attendance

Brown, B.J. “Power and responsibility: Devolving risk to patients in an age of neoliberalism” Medical Humanities Conference, Swansea, April 2011.

Brown, B.J. ‘‘Talking about Health in English’ International Conference on English for Specific Purposes at Fooyin University November 2008.

Brown, B.J. ‘Hygiene as habitus: Putting Bourdieu to work in hospital infection control’ Emerging Diseases: Structure, controversy and change in the scientific constitution of disease patterns, University of Hamburg, February 2008.

Current research students

Prof Brown currently has 12 PhD students undertaking research on a variety of topics, including communication between health professionals and clients, the role of emotions in human service work, the role of ancient Cypriot art in contemporary creative practice and the life narratives of people in the health professions. He has examined PhD candidates on 28 occasions. 

Externally funded research grants information

AHRC programme Grant for 'Creative practice as mutual recovery: Connecting communities for mental health and wellbeing'. This is a multi-centre study involving the universities of Nottingham, Derby, Wolverhampton, Falmouth and the Royal College of Music. This programme of related projects will attempt to bring together service users, carers and practitioners in creative activities centred upon music, photography, sculpture and storytelling as well as adult education. £1.5m 2013-2018.      

CI in International Health Humanities Network Funded by the AHRC. With Paul Crawford to provide a website, a seminar series and a conference to promote the health humanities £38,000, August 2011 – July 2013.

CI in Experiences of surgical site infection Study funded by the Infection Prevention Society 2011-2012 with Judith Tanner and Wendy Padley. £4,985.

Madness in contemporary English literature. A study of the representation of madness in post 1945 English language fiction funded by the Leverhulme Trust (£91,830) with a team from Nottingham University including Paul Crawford (principal investigator) Ronald Carter, Maurice Lipsedge. March 2007-March 2010.

Cleanliness and infection control; A comparative study of discourses of cleanliness in health and agriculture examining discourses surrounding biosecurity concentrating on infections such as MRSA and zoonoses such as avian flu, funded by the ESRC (£151,000) with a team from Nottingham University, including Brigitte Nerlich (principal investigator) Paul Crawford, Ronald Carter. Rated ‘outstanding’. May 2006 to October 2008.

Mothers, Wives and Changing Lives; A project concerned with oral history and women’s working lives in mid-twentieth century Wales, funded by the British Academy (£6655) with a team from Bangor University including Howard Davies and Sally Baker. January 2007 - March 2007.

Internally funded research project information

Healthcare-Associated Infection Control in the Ambulance Service. Grant from De Montfort University’s Revolving Investment Fund to conduct a study of healthcare associated infection risk and infection control in the ambulance service. October 2010 to July 2011.

The experience of illness. Grant from De Montfort University’s pump priming fund to conduct a study of peoples’ experience of long term, non–life-threatening illness. February 2005 – July 2005.

Role plays in the assessment of nurses undergoing training as nurse prescribers. Grant from De Montfort University’s pump priming fund to cover equipment and transcription costs. February 2002 – July 2002.

Online learning for postgraduates in qualitative methodology Funded through the Roberts scheme, this project sought to develop an online learning module in qualitative methodology for De Montfort University’s postgraduate students, with Simon Rogerson and Matthew Croft Wake. This led to the development of module no. REST7526. July 2009-July 2010.

Professional esteem indicators

Prof Brown has served as a reviewer for Social Science and Medicine, Journal of Social Work, Journal of Applied Linguistics, Human Relations, Journal of Advanced Nursing, Feminism and Psychology, Health Risk and Society, Biomed Central, Diversity in Health and Care, Sociologia Ruralis, Health and Social Care in the Community.

Guest editor of special issues Journal of Medical Humanities (2015 and 2012) and Mental Health Review (2011) on the humanities in health care.

Case studies

Brief communication in health care
A current focus of interest is that of brief encounters and brief communication in health care. Initial indications suggest that relatively fleeting encounters can make a huge difference to the emotional feel of the health care experience and can even accelerate recovery for patients. Despite guidance in documents such as Tomorrow’s Doctors (General Medical Council, 2009) which stresses the desirability of involving patients in decision making about their care and Good Medical Practice (2009) emphasising working in partnership with patients, a production line approach all too frequently prevails in practice. Even in formally scheduled consultations, the emphasis is often to elicit information and undertake standardized assessments as quickly as possible rather than form a supportive social relationship. Therefore there is an urgent need to explore how these time-limited encounters can be rendered as effective as possible. Our work on what we have called ‘Brief, Ordinary and Effective’ (BOE) communication in health care has already excited interest. It has informed the Chief Nursing Officer’s report on Mental Health Nursing (Department of Health, 2006), which required application in all mental health nurse training and practice in the UK. More recently, the commissioned report into the impact of Chief Nursing Officer’s review found that the BOE-driven communication competencies and capabilities achieved the highest implementation score for Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) (Callaghan et al, 2010). The BOE Model was originally presented in outline in Brown et al (2006) and further developed in Crawford et al (2006) and Brown and Crawford (2011). Possible future developments include further dissemination via Managed Innovation Networks and a book length monograph for which we have commenced negotiation with publishers.

Health Humanities
An unexpected area of success over the last few years has concerned the health humanities. This represents an attempt to explore interrelationships between the humanities and health care disciplines and the contribution of the humanities and arts to the full range of health care disciplines. It represents a broader and more inclusive approach than the existing medical humanities, which has often focussed on the ethics, history and philosophy of medicine itself. This new discipline also offers the possibilities of innovative and creative contributions to therapeutic activity. This ambition was prompted by our success in obtaining a Leverhulme grant to study representations of madness in English literature from 1945 to the present, and an AHRC grant to set up a ‘Madness and Literature Network’. This yielded a seminar series through 2008-2010 and culminated in an international conference in August 2010 attracting speakers from the US and over 30 other countries in the global scholarly community. Of particular note were contributions from internationally renowned scholars Elaine Showalter (The Female Malady) and Kay Redfield Jamison (Touched by Fire, An Unquiet Mind). Following on from this we have guest edited a special issue of Journal of Medical Humanities (for over thirty years the leading journal in the medical humanities field) composed of key papers from the conference. In addition we edited a special issue of Mental Health Review on the role of the humanities in mental health care.

The AHRC have also generously supported our International Health humanities Network

We have recently secured an AHRC Programme Grant to fund a multi centre study of arts and humanities in mental health care, involving scholars and practitioners from numerous institutions. The initiatives in this programme include projects concerned with photography, music, sculpture, and storytelling where service users, carers and practitioners are brought together to benefit from creative activities. 

This health humanities initiative offers the possibility of international leadership in a field poised to develop rapidly in the next few years. It offers also the opportunity to develop novel interdisciplinary collaborations and creative syntheses. From the point of view of the health and social sciences it provides innovative means of dissemination and impact, through exhibition, performance, drama and literature as well as formal academic publishing, to seek new syntheses, develop further humanities and arts based interventions in health and social care and enhance dissemination and impact.