Ethics, Narrative Competence and Health (MMHU6910)


When patients talk to healthcare providers, they tell a story, they offer a narrative. Narratives are key tools for community organisers and health promoters. Narrative writing changes lives. For example, it is the pathway to the future for the indigenous and disadvantaged children served by Sydney's The Story Factory. Aristotle, and more recently, Martha Nussbaum, argued that literature is a unique and crucial way to do ethics and to live ethically. Understanding how narratives work and produce their effects is a critical skill in health and medicine. In this unit of study, students will use the tools of literary and cultural studies to get to grips with connections between literature, narrative and health and medicine. From writings by Leo Tolstoy, Franz Kafka, and Virginia Woolf, to contemporary texts by Vincent Lam, Brian Lobel and Karen Hitchcock, students will encounter and analyse a wide range of literary and non-literary narratives concerned with illness, embodiment and healing. The unit will provide a space for informal discussion and reflection on the texts we encounter, while also introducing students to influential theories of narrative and modes of cultural, literary and linguistic analysis that can further enrich our understandings of these texts. Topics or themes covered during the course include: narrative theory (narratology); narrative competence; literary/cultural representations of health practitioners; language and embodiment; medico-literary 'genres' (e.g. autopathography and the medical antibildungsroman); narrative research; and the limits of narrative in narrative medicine.

Our courses that offer this unit of study

Further unit of study information


Block mode - 4 x full day intensives supported by compulsory online learning tasks


2x 2500 writing tasks (90%) plus participation in online activities (10%). Attendance will be tracked and 80% attendance is required to pass this unit of study.


There are many works of literature set for this unit of study. Please check the Additionally, students are provided with a list of readings in digital format. Most supplementary readings can be accessed through the library or online.

Faculty/department permission required?


Study this unit outside a degree

Non-award/non-degree study

If you wish to undertake one or more units of study (subjects) for your own interest but not towards a degree, you may enrol in single units as a non-award student.

Cross-institutional study

If you are from another Australian tertiary institution you may be permitted to underake cross-institutional study in one or more units of study at the University of Sydney.