Dr Oliver Bonnington
in Sociology, Wellcome Trust Fellow in Humanities & Social Science
15-17 Tavistock Place
I am a social scientist with degrees in Geography (UCL) and Sociology as Applied to Medicine (KCL). Before joining LSHTM in 2013, I completed a PhD and held a research post within the NIHR-funded SAPPHIRE Programme on mental illness-related stigma and discrimination at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, KCL. Prior to that, I conducted qualitative studies funded by the UK government, charities, private companies and the EU.
At LSHTM, I am a seminar leader on the Principles of Social Research module and a personal tutor to students taking the MSc Public Health and MSc Demography & Health courses. I also lecture at King's College London on the Research on Stigma & Discrimination module of the MSc in Mental Health Service and Population Research.
My broad research interests lie in the sociology of health and illness, social theory and health, and modes of qualitative inquiry.
I am particularly interested in reimagining the logics of stigma by investigating its imbrications with related concepts such as oppression, discrimination and abjection, and exploring how different philosophies and ontologies – notably those of a realist, post-structuralist and more-than-human nature – can enable a refocusing on the tension between the ‘mark’ and ‘marking’, being and becoming. I first examined these themes during my PhD which presented a critical realist exploration of stigma and discrimination among people diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder, and investigated experiences of stigma by association among the families and friends of people so diagnosed. Using abductive and retroductive inference the study drew upon Margaret Archer’s morphogenetic sequence and Roy Bhaskar’s three overlapping domains of reality to establish a novel, empirically informed conceptualisation of stigmatisation, casting it as a temporal process that unfolds across structure and agency.
Currently I am exploring these ideas further within a Wellcome Trust Fellowship in Humanities & Social Science (2017-2020). This work, titled Resisting Depression Stigma, explores the multiple ways in which depression, stigma and anti-stigma are conceived and mobilised by different actors, noting the complementarities and contradictions within and across social 'scales'. The project has three elements. The first explores depression-related anti-stigma discourses and practices in the Global Mental Health field. The second involves an ethnographic exploration of the ways national mental health charities develop and enact depression-related anti-stigma strategies. And the third is a qualitative investigation of how people diagnosed with depression respond to stigma in their local, everyday lives. These elements will be brought together to constitute a multi-sited, or multi-scalar ethnography.
Previously I explored stigma-related issues within two projects at LSHTM, one based in the Faculty of Public Health & Policy, the other in the Faculty of Epidemiology & Population Health. The first (HepCATT), with Prof. Tim Rhodes and Dr Magdalena Harris, funded by the Department of Health, sought to understand why people who inject illicit drugs (heroin, amphetamines, steroids, etc.) do not receive testing and treatment for Hepatitis C, a blood-borne virus they may be particularly exposed to. This longitudinal, qualitative study evaluated the role of a peer support intervention in UK drug treatment settings that aims to facilitate testing and treatment uptake. The second (Bottlenecks), with Prof. Basia Zaba and Dr Alison Wringe, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, looked at why people living with HIV in six African countries (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, Malawi and Zimbabwe) do not transition to antiretroviral therapy. Its principal aim was to make qualitative comparisons across seven research sites in these countries to understand how differences in HIV policy and programme implementation influence the healthcare-seeking experiences of people living with HIV from diagnosis to treatment. This study was part of research conducted within the ALPHA Network.
Before this, I worked with Prof. Judith Green and Prof. Paul Wilkinson and led on a qualitative study, funded by the NIHR, which investigated the impact of home energy efficiency installations on cold-related morbidity and mortality. This UK-based study drew upon theories of practice and reflexivity to understand how items such as boilers, insulation and windows become domesticated, affect household practices, and influence health and wellbeing.
I also co-convene the British Sociological Association’s London Medical Sociology Group. We typically hold one seminar per month, open to everyone, at LSHTM’s Tavistock Place building.