Introducing ISCHP’s Podcast: The Operative Word

Brett Scholz (University of Canberra), Britta Wigginton (University of Queensland), and Ally Gibson (UNSW Sydney)

At ISCHP (the International Society of Critical Health Psychology) conferences, conversations inevitably circulate around how to break down existing paywalls, geographical boundaries, and the institutional privileges that disallow or constrain access to academic knowledge. Indeed, flattening academic power structures and promoting fairness are some of the values that characterise ISCHP as an academic community. As critical scholars, we are all too aware of the power relations imbued in the knowledge production and dissemination process(es) of the academy. The creation of a podcast series for ISCHP, entitled The Operative Word, therefore represents our attempt to join digital media platforms, in an effort to freely disseminate and share critical perspectives and knowledge, and to inspire conversations amongst critical scholars around the world – wherever their location.


The idea for this podcast arose during our last conference in Loughborough (UK) in July 2017.  The three of us were having an impromptu conversation about our favourite podcasts, and we were commenting on how few academic podcasts were available, particularly those that took a critical lens to health and other social phenomena. At the same conference, our ISCHP colleagues, Dr Glen Jankowski and Dr Neda Mahmoodi, also happened to run a workshop on using podcasts to disseminate academic work. We therefore thought that perhaps it was time for ISCHP to have its own podcast.

We’re hoping that this can be a resource for students new to critical psychology. In addition, we hope that those who are involved in teaching and research will be able to draw on this for their own interests and be able to use it in the classroom. And because of the eclectic community that makes up ISCHP, we anticipate that listeners both within and beyond psychology will be interested in our content. We also hope that this podcast bridges the geographical and socio-economic barriers to attending the conference in person and in being able to participate in the community between conferences. In keeping with (some) academic tradition, the podcast takes the format of a journal – our first volume for 2018 consists of six issues, which all build on content from the 2017 conference.

What’s in Store: Volume 1 of The Operative Word

A fairly recent addition to the ISCHP conference programme is the invited ‘5-Minute Challenge’. Speakers are asked to present a thought-provoking or challenging argument that cannot focus on a specific research study but must rather have relevance for a broader audience. The trick is to keep to the strict 5-Minute time limit and speak to pre-timed slides using only use images chosen by the speaker. With no question time for the audience afterwards, this snappy format makes for an entertaining, sometimes slightly frantic, and always thought-provoking segment of the conference.

For Volume 1 of The Operative Word, all 5-Minute Challengers from the 2017 ISCHP Conference were invited to be interviewed for a podcast Issue dedicated to airing their challenge, and then discussing it in more depth. To spice things up, we also invited Prof Antonia Lyons (Victoria University of Wellington) to revisit her keynote presentation from the conference (Issue 4). In each Issue, or episode, of this volume, we will feature one of these interviews. In keeping with the podcast name, each Issue has been titled with one word that encapsulates the spirit of the argument – namely, ‘the operative word’.

Thanks to their creative responses to the 5-Minute Challenge, we interviewed ISCHP community members on a range of topics. Not only did these topics stimulate rich discussions but, in many ways, they resonated with our own experiences in academia and – unexpectedly – in constructing this podcast.


A Transparent Reflection…

In creating this podcast, we have ended up reflecting on our own intentions for embarking on this alternative project and realised the need (especially as qualitative researchers) to locate ourselves, in the spirit of being transparent and reflexive.

To briefly introduce ourselves, we are three early career researchers (and friends) all working in Australian universities, and have held positions in various disciplines (psychology, nursing, public health, sociology). Our energy and drive to create this podcast stems from our collective passion to challenge dominant knowledge production and dissemination processes – or put another way, to go beyond the journal article. More broadly, we are motivated to use alternative platforms for dissemination of research and teaching content, in an effort to increase accessibility and stimulate connections and inspiration amongst our colleagues between the ISCHP conferences, which are held every two years. Accessibility is important to us but, at the same time, in being transparent about the context in which we work, we are increasingly aware of mounting pressures on academics to go beyond conventional publication methods. In Australia, we are expected to attend to, what are termed, ‘alternative metrics’ (altmetrics, for short), based on our social media impact. Essentially, how we are speaking to wider audiences – whether in other disciplines, in industry, or in the communities we research.

So, in some ways we recognise how our own practices and (precarious) employment positions represent or embody the neoliberal culture of current academia – the short-term employment we face, the unpaid labour we are expected to provide in the name of ‘service’ or ‘passion’, the ever-increasing demands we face in improving our research ‘track records’, what we have to sign up for in order to survive, and so on. Indeed, as critical scholars, we are all too aware of the power structures in which we operate and the practices that can often obscure the problematic and even destructive elements of working in Higher Education. But, as many can relate, taking a critical stance also means thinking productively, of trying to think of new ways of working within a system, of subtly pushing back the boundaries when we can. One of the elements that all three of us have experienced from being a part of ISCHP, for example, is the deep sense of engagement and genuine support that flows between members – how we as junior academics have been able to be guided, challenged, and encouraged from our senior colleagues. We believe that this continues to be a unique aspect of the ISCHP community, and we hope that that spirit comes out in our podcast.

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Similarly, in being open about our journey through this editorial process, we have admittedly faced a few challenges along the way. One concern that was raised by our community when we initially suggested creating this podcast was the fact that it would be produced in English, thereby reproducing the ongoing dominance of English in academic spaces and dissemination processes. We would therefore welcome non-English language community members to volunteer to produce and edit future Issues of The Operative Word, to make this possible since we were unable to do so. We would also hope that as this podcast develops, we could attract the funds or find volunteers to transcribe the Issues, allowing them to be accessible to d/Deaf or non-English speaking audiences. We’ve also faced the challenges of being podcasting ‘newbies’, having to teach ourselves how to navigate the world of podcasting and editing software, losing episodes, and even having to re-do them!

The Final Word

Yet, in saying all of that, we really believe in the purpose and possibilities of this podcast. Indeed, we have experienced designing, constructing, and editing this podcast as a lesson in hope. As the co-editors of this podcast, we are attempting to find room to do things differently, to enact the values that make up and sustain the ISCHP community, and hope to create new de-neoliberalised spaces and conversations.

Through The Operative Word we therefore aim to build up new and existing connections between members of the ISCHP community. Given the shared vision for social change, such connections within ISCHP and beyond are absolutely vital. After each ISCHP conference, we always go home and feel energised to continue fighting for social justice. We hope that this podcast acts as an extension of the ISCHP conference, and that it re-energises listeners’ resolve to work within their own contexts, knowing that their ISCHP connections are sharing similar struggles in different parts of the world.

Listening Guide

Volume 1 promises to be an exciting series, with discussion about issues that speak to the core of critical research in the social sciences. A taster episode is now available! And Issue 1 will be released at the beginning of July.

To listen to The Operative Word, please go to and please don’t forget to subscribe!

Also keep the conversation going with our hashtag #TheOW and/or tag @crithealthpsych


As a health coach, my fat is my greatest asset –– not a challenge to be overcome

By Tiana Dodson
As a fat person, you’re constantly browbeaten with the idea that your health has been
somehow damaged, ruined, or compromised and that it’s imperative that you reclaim it
by figuring out some way to make your body thin. So we look for people who model what we’re supposed to be. We look for the yoga teacher with the tightest butt, the deadlifter with the biggest pecs, the marathoner who makes the 26.2 look effortless, and the lithe, glowing health guru smiling around the straw of a green juice.
It might seem logical –– imitate that which you want to become –– but what people don’t
know is that it’s more than a lifestyle that got those people there. It’s their job. So unless
you’re trying to make fitness your career, you’re more than likely going to be trying to
squeeze fitness into a life where time, energy, and resources are already at a premium.
Trying to emulate these people almost always falls short… and that’s without starting
from absolute fatness.
If you’ve got an extra 20 pounds or so, then yeah, that 21-day cleanse might put you out
the other side with washboard abs. But if you’re in a situation where losing 20 pounds
would be unnoticeable because your body is very large at the outset, any advice these
health gurus give is just not helping. In fact, it’s much more likely to throw you into a
shame spiral, because if you can’t succeed with the 7 simple steps that anybody can
do, then you’ve failed, and it’s all your fault.
This is why fat people need their own health and wellness gurus –– and that’s
where I come in.
When it comes to overcoming body hatred, yo-yo dieting, and the difficulties of
navigating a fat phobic culture, I’ve been there and my work is based in my own journey.
So when a person tells me how hard it is for them to even be at the gym because of
how other people look at them, I get it. I get it when someone says that they really want to order dessert at a restaurant, but they’re deterred by the thought of the dreaded eyebrow raise –– because even if it’s the only dessert they’ve ordered all month, it still looks like all they eat is dessert. I get it when they say that they’re dreading going home for Thanksgiving because they’ve had to buy pants in a larger size. I get it because I’m fat, too.

2017-04-01 Tiana photo shooting 078

I’m also a certified health coach, which means that I have both the intellectual and
experiential knowledge of how bodies work. So when a client comes to me looking for
guidance on how to improve their health, I can easily put myself in their shoes because
their experiences are so familiar to me. And experiential knowledge can never be
outpaced by theoretical knowledge, no matter how many fat people a skinny health
coach has worked with. I’ve done –– and am still doing –– the work personally, so I know what it’s like to go through these steps, to experience the backslides, and to overcome the hurdles again and again.
The most well-intentioned ally can never be more than just that –– an ally.
But when your health’s on the line, you don’t just need an ally. You need a peer.
You need a partner. Not just because it’s nice. But because research indicates that
shared identity is foundational to forming a more effective partnership with a healthcare
provider (Street et al, 2008) . My compassion and my empathy comes from the fact that I have been there at
the lowest lows, and I’ve climbed up to the highest highs –– and I know how to help
other people do that too.

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Health is more than numbers on pieces of paper, health is all-encompassing and
holistic. And to get there, you need to be able to work with someone who can get
all of your life, not just the theoretical experience of it. When you’re talking about wanting someone to be healthy, you also need to be talking about all of them, all the things that make their life uniquely theirs. This includes the intersections of their identity and the social determinants of health (The World Health Organisation., 2010), because fatness never happens in a vacuum. It’s related to race, class, gender, sexuality, geography, and genetics, among many other things.
When you’re assessing the potential for health improvement, you have to be able to
understand how these things affect the probability and achievability of real health
improvement. Because not everybody can just get up and walk, not everybody has
equal access to healthcare providers. You have to take into consideration where a
person is starting from, what they’re capable of in their reality before you can start
prescribing things to improve their health. There’s just something about experiential knowledge that makes the difference between okay healthcare and life-changing healthcare.

So when I introduce myself as a fat health coach and you find yourself wondering how
that can even be possible, understand this: the “fat” part is the part that makes me really
damn good at what I do. It’s the same reason why welcoming, centering, promoting, and
employing people with marginalized identities does nothing but enrich a space. There is
so much to learn from those who are different from us, and embracing these differences
helps us all move forward.

Street Jr., R., O’Malley, K., Cooper, L., & Haidet, P. (2008). Understanding
Concordance in Patient-Physician Relationships: Personal and Ethnic Dimensions of
Shared Identity. Annals of Family Medicine 6:3 , 198-205. Available as Open Access:

The World Health Organization. (2010). A Conceptual Framework for Action on the
Social Determinants of Health. Social Determinants of Health Discussion Paper 2 . p. 6.
Available as Open Access:;jsessioni