Spring Workshop – FACES

In our latest post, Sangeetha Neeraja (below) reports on our recent FACES event. Sangeetha is a social worker turned development journalist who has reported extensively on poverty and social exclusion for two leading national dailies in India in the last decade. She has also reported on Acid attack victims and people who were defaced by leprosy. She is now pursuing her Masters in Social Research Methods at Swansea University and hopes to make a difference in the field of development sciences.

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The face has always been the index of one’s identity; the visual imprint of who we are. What happens to the ‘sense of self’ when it is disfigured or mutilated in some way? The traumatic loss and the phenomenal journey of finding oneself is definitely a story worth telling.

At the Spring Workshop ‘ Faces’ organised by the Health, History and Culture -Interdisciplinary Research Group at Swansea University last Wednesday, Professor Trish Skinner and Dr. Emily Cock from the University of Winchester shared their perspectives on what it is to be ‘Effaced’ from history ? The story so far…

Trish Skinner is a medieval historian, who researches what happens to social status if a person acquired a disfigurement in adulthood in the medieval period. She questions the extent to which meanings of facial difference have been fixed or fluid in history. The Effaced team is now gearing up for a bid with the Wellcome Trust for a multidisciplinary collaborative project, led by 6 principal investigators to track facial disfigurement and facial difference over the centuries. The Collaborative study will be titled ‘ Effaced from History? Facial Difference and its Representation from Antiquity to the Present Day’

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The audience was shown a picture of a young girl, whose face had a gaping hole where her nose should be. This chilling image of a once beautiful girl appeared on the of Time Magazine in 2010, and is a testimony to the act of violence which left her disfigured. Skinner pointed out that this kind of disfigurement is so shockingly sudden, it is not just a physical change, but leaves behind a deep psychological scar.

Skinner’s earlier work found that disfigured people’s voices are rare pre-1800 and disfigurement is a constant of human history and that religious faith played an important role in helping the afflicted. Most of her work from the medieval period has focussed on individual journeys of people who were effaced, rather than the collective experience of disfigurement which could have happened at battles or civil wars.

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Dr. Emily Cock, Research Assistant in the Effaced project was working on the non-normative faces in early modern Britain, especially how medical culture responded to facial difference in that period. She argues that faces that are seen to hide, obstruct or otherwise affect the expression of emotions either permanently or temporarily. She drew inspiration from two texts (Pathomyotomia (1649) and Anthropometamorphosis (1650 ) authored by mid-seventeenth-century writer and physician , John Bulwer (1606-1656), who displayed a keen interest in the body’s capacity for non-verbal communication.

Bulwer: “a certaine corrugation or wrinkle about the angle of the Eye… in those that laugh often, are supposed to grow habituall: which some Ladyes fearing, will not laugh, lest.” Or that a laughing smile could also be a muscle spasm.

Bringing in a new dimension to the discussion, Dr. Alex Jones, evolutionary psychologist from Swansea University talked about his work on the effect of facial cues on social judgement. He engaged with the audience by showing a series of parallel representative facial images of two women (which were computer generated averages) by raising questions such as: Who gets more upset easily? Who talks more at parties ? Who is more likely to donate to charities? Who is more kind and considerate ? And so on.

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The audience were asked to choose either of the pictures. While we were deciding we were also making social judgements based on their facial cues was the point made. Similarly, how the left side of the face betrays more expression, predisposing us to make snap judgements based merely on our own visual positioning.

If we were to make a case why women should wear make up. Jones showed how in evolutionary terms humans have perceived increased contrast in female faces as femininity and attractiveness. By increasing contrast one can appear younger. Well, cosmetics just won its scientific vote.

Book your places for Faces!

We are very excited about our Spring Workshop ‘Faces’ which is taking place on Wednesday 16 March, 2.00-4.00 in Vivian Tower room 404. Please book your place via Eventbrite: Here

Professor Trish Skinner and Dr Emily Cock from the University of Winchester will talk about the Wellcome Collaborative Award application: ‘Effaced from History? Facial Difference and its Representation from Antiquity to the Present Day’.

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Trish is a medieval historian and ‘Effaced’ considers the social understanding and patient experiences of variant causes of facial difference such as scarring, aging, disease, accident, self-infliction, punishment, and congenital factors.

Emily’s research focusses on the medical practice, patient experience and popular representation of head and face medicaments and surgical procedures in Early Modern Britain

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Dr Alex Jones of the College of Human and Health Sciences will talk about his research in face perception. Alex is an evolutionary psychologist and he completed his PhD in Bangor University in 2013, examining the presence of personality cues in the face and how other aspects of our faces signal information about us. He then moved to the United States for a postdoctoral role, examining attractiveness cues in the face and how they are modified by cosmetics. He is currently researching health perception, attractiveness, and personality perception from faces.

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