Senior Research Fellow

PhD (STS), University of Edinburgh; MSc, University of Edinburgh; BA (hons) Open University
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Biography

I am a qualitative social scientist whose research focuses the interactions between nutrition research and public health policy. My PhD Obesity: A historical account of the construction of a modern epidemic spanned medical sociology, public health policy and the history of medicine. I have subsequently worked on food security policy and commercial actors’ understandings of public health regulation. I have a growing teaching portfolio, experience of a range of research methods, including documentary analysis and interviewing lay and professional publics. I am also co-convenor of the interdisciplinary network Food Researchers in Edinburgh (FRIED) and currently organise the network’s seminar series.

Research Interests

National and international food policy, especially the areas of public health nutrition, food security and sustainability
Global health governance and the work of the WHO and the FAO
The development of nutrition science and chronic disease epidemiology in the UK and the US
Interactions between research evidence and public policy
Popular understandings of nutrition and healthy eating

Biography

I am a qualitative social scientist whose research focuses the interactions between nutrition research and public health policy. My PhD Obesity: A historical account of the construction of a modern epidemic spanned medical sociology, public health policy and the history of medicine. I have subsequently worked on food security policy and commercial actors’ understandings of public health regulation. I have a growing teaching portfolio, experience of a range of research methods, including documentary analysis and interviewing lay and professional publics. I am also co-convenor of the interdisciplinary network Food Researchers in Edinburgh (FRIED) and currently organise the network’s seminar series.

Research Interests

National and international food policy, especially the areas of public health nutrition, food security and sustainability
Global health governance and the work of the WHO and the FAO
The development of nutrition science and chronic disease epidemiology in the UK and the US
Interactions between research evidence and public policy
Popular understandings of nutrition and healthy eating

Articles

Samuel Taylor-Alexander, Edward Dove, Agomoni Ganguli Mitra, Graeme Laurie, Isabel Fletcher, Catriona McMillan, 'Beyond regulatory compression: Confronting the liminal spaces of health research regulation', (2016), Law, Innovation and Technology, Vol 8, pp 149-176
Abstract: Biomedicine and the life sciences continuously rearrange the relationship between culture and biology. In consequence, we increasingly look for a suitable regulatory response to reduce perceived uncertainty and instability. This article examines the full implications of this ‘regulatory turn’ by drawing on the anthropological concept of liminality. We offer the term ‘regulatory compression’ to characterise the effects of extant regulatory approaches on health research practices. With its focus on transformation and the ‘in-between’, liminality allows us to see how regulatory frameworks rely on a silo-based approach to classifying and regulating research objects such that they: (1) limit the flexibility necessary in clinical and laboratory research; (2) result in the emergence of unregulated spaces that lie between the bounded regulatory spheres; and (3) and curtail modes of public participation in the health research enterprise. We suggest there is a need to develop the notion of ‘processual regulation’, a novel framework that requires a temporal-spatial examination of regulatory spaces and practices as these are experienced by all actors, including the relationship of actors with the objects of regulation.

Isabel Fletcher, 'The many meanings of obesity now and then ', (2016), BioSocieties, Vol 11, pp 267-271
Abstract: A combined review of Reconstructing Obesity: The Meaning of Measures and the Measure of Meaning edited by Megan B. McCullough and Jessica A. Hardin, and The Metamorphoses of Fat: A History of Obesity by Georges Vigarello that situates these texts within current social science writing on obesity.

Isabel Fletcher, 'Review: Eating right in America, Part 2 of 3', (2015), Allegra Lab: Anthropology, Law, Art & World

Isabel Fletcher, 'Nutritionism: The science and politics of dietary advice', (2014), New Genetics and Society, Vol 34, pp 347–352

Isabel Fletcher, 'Defining an Epidemic: The Body Mass Index in British and American obesity research 1960-2000', (2014), Sociology of Health & Illness, Vol 36, pp 338-53
Abstract: Between the 1970s and the mid-1990s the body mass index (BMI) became the standard means of assessing obesity both in populations and in individuals, replacing previously diverse and contested definitions of excess body weight. This article draws on theoretical approaches from the sociology of standards and science and technology studies to describe the development of this important new standard and the ways in which its adoption facilitated the development of obesity science, that is, knowledge about the causes, health effects and treatments of excess body weight. Using an analysis of policy and healthcare literatures, I argue that the adoption of the BMI, along with associated standard cut-off points defining overweight and obesity, was crucial in the framing of obesity as an epidemic. This is because, I suggest, these measures enabled, firstly, the creation of large data sets tracking population-level changes in average body weight, and, secondly, the construction of visual representations of these changes. The production of these two new techniques of representation made it possible for researchers in this field, and others such as policymakers, to argue credibly that obesity should be described as an epidemic.

Catherine Lyall, Isabel Fletcher, 'Experiments in interdisciplinary capacity-building: The successes and challenges of large-scale interdisciplinary investments', (2013), Science and Public Policy, Vol 40, pp 1-7
Abstract: Research funding agencies in many countries support interdisciplinary collaboration in order to tackle the 'grand challenges' facing societies worldwide but there is uneven guidance as to its effective conduct. Different types of interdisciplinarity require different approaches and there is no single model for success. Moreover, 'problem-solving interdisciplinarity' often runs contrary to academic conventions, structures and norms which are still predominantly discipline-based. The stability offered by public investment over the longer term may offer advantages for the personal research and publication strategies of interdisciplinary researchers. Support for relationship building with a range of stakeholders through this type of research may also lead to a greater likelihood of research impact beyond the academy. The benefits of such experiments in research capacity-building can be both intellectually rewarding and confer added value to public investments by encouraging significant social and economic returns.

Chapters

Isabel Fletcher, Steven Yearley, Catherine Lyall, 'Mapping the UK Government’s genome: analysing convergence in UK policy one decade into the twenty-first century ' in Matthias Wienroth, Eugénia Rodrigues (ed.) Knowing New Biotechnologies ( 2015) 92-104

Working Papers

Samuel Taylor-Alexander, Edward Dove, Agomoni Ganguli Mitra, Graeme Laurie, Isabel Fletcher, Catriona McMillan, 'Confronting the Liminal Spaces of Health Research Regulation: Beyond Regulatory Compression' 2015