Dr Maria Berghs

Job: Senior Lecturer

Faculty: Health and Life Sciences

School/department: School of Allied Health Sciences

Research group(s): Health Studies and Sociology

Address: Edith Murphy Building, Office 6.08, Faculty of Health and Life Sciences,The Gateway, LE1 9BH

T: +44 (0)116 257 7910

E: Maria.Berghs@dmu.ac.uk

W: http://www.dmu.ac.uk/hls


Personal profile

Maria Berghs is an anthropologist with a PhD in sociology and social policy. She works in the field of medical anthropology and sociology, specialising in disability studies. Her research interests include disability, global health (sickle cell), humanitarianism, ethics, gender and West Africa (Sierra Leone).

She has published a monograph entitled War and Embodied Memory: Becoming Disabled in Sierra Leone (Routledge 2016), numerous chapters, journal articles and commentary pieces in places such as The Conversation. With Professor Atkin at the University of York and Professor Dyson at De Montfort University, she worked on an National Institute for Health Research – Research for Patient Benefit (NIHR-RfPB) study investigating the experiences of fathers invited for a genetic test for sickle cell during antenatal care. That research has been published in the journals Sociology, Social Science & Medicine, and Health. A guide for fathers and their families was also produced to use in practice to ensure informed decision making. Dr. Berghs has advised Public Health England and she has presented the findings of her research to the All Parliamentary Group on Sickle Cell and Thalassaemia.

She worked on a collaborative project between the University of York and Lancaster University funded by the National Institute of Health Research-Public Health Research (NIHR-PHR), examining disability inclusion in public health randomised controlled trials (RCTs). The project involved using rights in empirical-ethical design of interventions to make them more robust and equitable.

She is the Deputy Director of the Social Study of Thalassamia and Sickle Cell Unit at De Montfort University, where she is currently working:

1) As a research fellow in partnership with Professor Simon Dyson, Sickle Cell Society and the Organisation for Sickle Cell Anaemia Research-Sandwell. They will be co-producing Disability Research on Independent Living project, "Barriers and enablers to employment: Black disabled peoples living with sickle cell disorders." 

2) As a research fellow in partnership with Professor Simon Dyson, the Sierra Leone Sickle Cell Society and the Sickle Cell Carers Network on a project on gender and sickle cell in Sierra Leone. 

3) Several forthcoming projects on disability.


Research group affiliations

Unit for the Social Study of Thalassaemia and Sickle Cell.

Health Policy Research Group

Institute of Allied Health Sciences Research

Research interests/expertise

• Disability paradigms in global north and south
• Disability, humanitarianism and conflict
• Disability, social movements, activism and rights
• Social aspects of sickle cell, gendered access to reproductive technology and involvement in RCTs
• Genomic research and the involvement of families and children
• Understanding sickle cell as chronic illness and research for cure
• Global public health and interventions for equity
• The relationship between empirical-ethics and human rights in interventions
• Rethinking the binary sociology of/in bioethics paradigm

Areas of teaching

  • Medical Sociology
  • Global Public Health
  • Disability
  • Gender


MA Philosophy (University of Leuven, Belgium)
MA Social and Cultural Anthropology (University of Leuven, Belgium)
PhD in Sociology and Social Policy (University of Leeds, United Kingdom)

Courses taught

Maria has a PGCLTHE and teaches across the Health and Wellbeing in Society Programme supporting all modules and workshops. She is a personal tutor and also teaches postgraduates.

Membership of professional associations and societies

British Sociological Association (Medical Sociology)

American Anthropological Association (Medical Anthropology)

Society for Disability Studies

European Association of Social Anthropologists

Association for Studies in Innovation and Technology (AsSIST)

Canadian Healthcare Ethics Network

Conference attendance

49th UK Forum on Haemogobin Disorders Conference in Honour of Professor David Weatherall, St. Catherine’s College, Oxford University, Oxford, 14th November 2019. Sickle Cell and Gender in Sierra Leone: Why North-South Partnerships Matter. Berghs, M., Gabba, A., Nyandemo, S.E., Dyson, S.M., Roberts, G. T. & Deen, G. Presentation given by Dr. Berghs.

11th International Critical Management Studies Conference, Open University, 27-29th June 2019. They can replace you at any time: Ableism and sickle cell in the UK, Berghs, M., Morrison, V.  & Dyson, S.M. Presentation given by V. Morrison and Dr. Berghs.

XXI Spanish Congress of Parasitology (SOCEPA), Pontevedra, Spain, 3rd to 5th July 2019. Intervention to enhance medical parasitology knowledge at the University of
Makeni, Sierra Leone. Peña-Fernández A., Izquierdo F., Acosta L., Hurtado C., Magnet A., Berghs M., Anjum U.

Intergenerational Futures Workshop: A workshop on public health and life-course, Darwin College, University of Cambridge, 14th of June 2019.

Sickle Cell Anaemia Symposium, Coventry University, 8 October 2018. Sickle Cell Disease: Sickle Cell Disorder, Dyson, S.M., Berghs, M. & Morrison, V. Presentations given by Professor Dyson and Morrison, V.

Sickle Cell and Thalassaemia 30th Anniversary Conference, Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, 18 September 2018. Sickle Cell and Employment: Why Understanding a Health Condition is a Key Resource, Oyeyiola, D. Berghs, M. & Dyson, S.M., Presentation given by Oyeyiola, D.

Lancaster Disability Studies, Lancaster University, 11th to 13th of September 2018, Sickle Cell and Employment Activism, Keimbe, M., Berghs, M. & Dyson, S.M., Presentation given by Keimbe, M. and Dr. Berghs.

Lancaster Disability Studies, Lancaster University, 11th to 13th of September, Routledge Handbook of Disability Activism Symposium, Convenor Dr. Berghs.

Creating diverse coalitions for equality in neoliberal times?Locating the emancipatory city , Conference 4th of July 2018, British Sociological Association (BSA) and the Centre for Urban Research on Austerity (CURA) at De Montfort University, Co-organiser with: K. Fearon, P. Papaloukas, S. Rivzi, The People’s Forum, Bright Sparks, Arts in Mental Health- Leicestershire NHS Partnership Trust, and De Montfort University.

International Health Congress, St Hughes, Oxford, 29th to 30th of June 2018. Researching a Neglected Public Health Issue: Sickle Cell and Gendered Research Advocacy for Practice in Sierra Leone. Berghs, M., Dyson, S. M., Gabba, A., Nyandemo, S.E., Roberts, G. T. & Deen, G., Presentation given by Dr. Berghs.

Social Justice, Social Work and Participation. Research Seminar: Involving service users in research and service design and delivery. De Montfort University, 27 September 2017, From emancipatory disability research in Sierra Leone to working with politically active disabled people in the UK. Berghs, M.

British Sociological Association - Medical Sociology Conference, University of York, 13th to 15th September 2017, The platitudes of public sociology: Can human rights lead to an ethics for equity? Berghs, M., Atkin, K., Graham, H., Hatton, C. & Thomas, C., Presentation given by Dr. Berghs.

Science in Public: Science, Technology & Humanity. University of Sheffield. 10-12th of July 2017. Science, Policy and Political Legitimation:  Rethinking Evidence (RCTs) for Policy.  Berghs, M., Atkin, K., Graham, H., Hatton, C. & Thomas, C.. Presentation given by Dr. Berghs.

BSA Postgraduate Forum Regional Event: Public Sociology and the Role of the Researcher: Engagement, Communication and Academic Activism. De Montfort University, March 19th 2017. Workshop.

Sierra Leone Multi-Sectorial Strategy to Prevent & Control Anaemia (2017 to 2025) Conference, Freetown, 9th of March 2017. Sickle Cell: A Neglected Public Health Issue. Berghs, M. & Dyson, S., Presentation given by Dr. Berghs.

Recent research outputs

Berghs, M. 2020. Biosocial Model of Disability. In Encyclopedia of Gerontology and Population Aging, Gu, D. & Dupre, M.E. (eds.) Cham: Springer.

Berghs, M. 2020. An African ethics of social wellbeing: Understanding Disability and Public Health. In Disability in Africa: Inclusion, Care, and the Ethics of Humanity Falola, T. & Hamel, N. (eds). New York: University of Rochester Press.

Berghs, M., Morrison, V., Sokhal, K., & Dyson, S. 2019. Sickle Cell, Work and Employment: A Guide for Employers and Employees on Sickle Cell Disorder (SCD). Leicester: De Montfort University.

Berghs, M., Atkin, K., Hatton, C. & Thomas, C.  2019. Rights to Social Determinants of Flourishing: A Paradigm for Disability and Public Health Research and Policy, BMC Public Health, 19: 997.

Cronin de Chavez, A., Atkin, K. Babbington, F., Berghs, M.J., Dyson, S.M.,Miller, A., & Whitelaw D. 2019. Incidental finding of sickle cell trait from an everyday diabetes test – should the general practitioner report? retest? refer? Clinical Diabetes (In press).

Berghs, M., Gabba, . E.; Nyandemo, S.E., Dyson,S.M., Deen, G. F. & Roberts, G.T. 2019. "We di woman den, na we di suffer": A Report on Sickle Cell in Sierra Leone. Leicester: De Montfort University.

Berghs, M., Atkin, K., Hatton, C. & Thomas, C. 2019.Current Issues: Do disabled people need a stronger social model - a social model of human rights. Disability & Society, 1-6.

Berghs, M., Chataika, T., El-Lahib, Y. & Dube, A.K. (eds.). 2019. The Routledge Handbook of Disability Activism. London and New York: Routledge. (See http://www.disabilityactivism.com)

Berghs, M., Atkin, K., Hatton, C. & Thomas, C. 2019. Policy Briefing: Implementing empirical ethics and rights - IDEAS for ensuring disability equity in research .York: University of York.

Dyson, S. M. & Berghs, M. 2019. Ethnicity, Disability and Chronic Illness. Understanding ‘race’ and ethnicity, Chattoo, S., Atkin, K., Graig, G. & Flynn, R.  (eds.) Bristol: Polity Press.

Berghs, M. 2018. Ethical (Dis)enchantment, Afflictive Kinship and Ebola Exceptionalism. Disability and Everyday Worlds. Thomas, G. & Sakellariou, D. (eds.) New York: New York University Press.

Berghs, M. 2017. Cash not Care: The Planned Demolition of the UK Welfare State. By Stewart, Mo. New Generation Publishing: London. 2016. 188pp. £15.99. ISBN 978-1-78507-783-8. Self & Society, DOI: 10.1080/03060497.2017.1356112

Berghs, M. Atkin, K., Graham, H., Hatton, C. & Thomas, C. 2017. Public health, research and rights: The perspectives of deliberation panels with politically and socially active disabled people. Disability & Society, 32 (7): 945-965.

Berghs, M., Dyson, S.M. and Atkin, K., 2017. Resignifying the sickle cell gene: Narratives of genetic risk, impairment and repair. Health, 21 (2): 171-188.

Berghs, M. 2017. Emancipatory Engagement and Co-Production: Disability Research for Activism. London: Sage Research Case Methods. http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781473950139

Berghs, M. 2017. Practices and disourses of Ubuntu: Implications for an African model of disability. African Journal of Disability, (6) a292. http://doi.org/10.4102/ajod.v6.292

Berghs, M. 2016. Disabled states and impaired citizens in the global south: Bio, necro to impairometrics. Minority Reports. Cultural Disability Studies, (2), pp. 237-256.

Berghs, M. and Kabbara, N. 2016. Disabled people in conflicts and wars. In Disability in the Global South (pp. 269-283). London: Springer.

Berghs, M.J., Atkin, K.M., Graham, H.M., Hatton, C. and Thomas, C., 2016. Implications for public health research of models and theories of disability: a scoping study and evidence synthesis. Public Health Research, (4) 8.

Atkin, K., Berghs, M. and Dyson, S., 2015. ‘Who's the guy in the room?’Involving fathers in antenatal care screening for sickle cell disorders. Social Science & Medicine, 128, pp.212-219.

Berghs, M., 2016. War and embodied memory: Becoming disabled in Sierra Leone. London: Routledge.

Dyson, S.M., Berghs, M. and Atkin, K., 2016. ‘Talk to Me. There’s Two of Us’: Fathers and Sickle Cell Screening. Sociology, 50(1), pp.178-194.

Berghs, M. and Kabbara, N., 2016. Disabled people in conflicts and wars. In Disability in the Global South (pp. 269-283). Springer International Publishing.

Berghs, M., 2016. Local and Global Phantoms: Reparations National Memory and Sacrifice in Sierra Leone. Rethinking Disability: World Perspectives in Culture and Society, p.275.

Berghs, M., 2016. Shakespeare, T.(ed.) Disability Research Today: International Perspectives. London and New York: Routledge. 2015. 254pp£ 29.99 ISBN 978–0415748445 (pbk).

Berghs, M., 2016. Neoliberal policy, chronic corruption and disablement: biosecurity, biosocial risks and the creation of ‘Ebola survivors’?. Disability & society, 31(2), pp.275-279.

Berghs, M., 2015. Disability and displacement in times of conflict: Rethinking migration, flows and boundaries. Disability and the Global South, 2(1), pp.442-459.

Berghs, M., 2015. Gun violence, disability & recovery. Disability & Society, 30 (3): 484-5.

Conteh, E. and Berghs, M., 2014. ‘Mi At Don Poil’: A Report on Reparations in Sierra Leone for Amputee and War-Wounded People. Draft report, Amputee and War-Wounded Association, Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Berghs, M., Atkin, K. and Dyson, S., 2014. Involving Fathers in Ante-Natal Screening for Sickle Cell Disorders: Improving Informed Decision-Making. York: University of York.

Berghs, M., 2014. The new humanitarianism: Neoliberalism, poverty and the creation of disability. Disability, human rights and the limits of humanitarianism, pp.27-44.

Berghs, M. 2014. Native American communities on health and disability: borderland dialogues. Disability & Society,  29 (6), pp. 985-987.

Berghs, M., 2013. The global economy of care. Disabling barriers-enabling environments. London: Sage.

Berghs, M., 2011. Embodiment and emotion in Sierra Leone. Third World Quarterly, 32(8), pp.1399-1417.

Berghs, M. and Dos Santos-Zingale, M., 2011. A comparative analysis: everyday experiences of disability in Sierra Leone. Africa Today, 58(2), pp.18-40.

Berghs, M., 2010. Coming to terms with inequality and exploitation in an African state: Researching disability in Sierra Leone. Disability & Society, 25(7), pp.861-865.

Consultancy work

Member of the Ebola Response Anthropology Platform

Current research students

 Sharon Anyiam, research PhD, (2nd supervisor): Black Student Activism

Tonio Axisa, research PhD, (2nd supervisor): Retention, Dsability and Employment

 Heather Cole, research PhD, (3rd supervisor):  Voices from the Conflict Zone; a trans-cultural ethnographic anthropology of feminist activism in humanitarian spaces

Fiona Relf, research PhD, (3rd supervisor): What is the role of parents in the development of Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs)?

Externally funded research grants information

Barriers and enablers to employment: Black disabled peoples living with Sickle Cell Disorders (SCD), DRILL-UK and the National Lottery, 2018-2020, Research Fellow, PI: S. Dyson, Partners: Sickle Cell Society and the Organisation for Sickle Cell Anaemia Research Sandwell Company Ltd.

Internally funded research project information

A Gender Issue: Women and Sickle Cell in Sierra Leone, DMU VC2020 Project, June 2018- June 2019, PI, Co-investigators: S. Dyson, G. Roberts, G. Deen, A.Gabba (SLSCD), S. Nyademo (SCCAN).

Creating diverse coalitions for equality in neoliberal times?Locating the emancipatory city , Conference 4th of July 2018, British Sociological Association (BSA) and the Centre for Urban Research on Austerity (CURA) at De Montfort University, Co-organiser with: K. Fearon, P. Papaloukas, S. Rivzi, The People’s Forum, Bright Sparks, Arts in Mental Health- Leicestershire NHS Partnership Trust and De Montfort University.


Professional esteem indicators

Occasional editorial duties for journals such as BMJ, Fontiers, Ethnicity & Health, Medical Anthropology, BMC, Health, Cultural Anthropology and African Journal of Disability among others. I review books on disability for differing journals as well as publishing houses such as Palgrave, Polity, Oxford University Press etc. I also review  grants such as for funders such as the ESRC and Wellcome Trust.

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