Yuxin Peng

DPhil Student

St Antony's College

Thesis: Exploring multiple efficacies of the hands-on activities at Restore, an Oxfordshire mental health charity

Research: My DPhil research in anthropology responds to a question raised by the co-founder and one of the former directors of Restore. As a well-known mental health charity in Oxfordshire, Restore must conduct many outcome measurements to sustain its statutory funding. These measurements are standardised and audited, but the activities they evaluate are diverse. Nevertheless, it is these standardised measures that are policy-informing. They determine the magnitude of financial support available for Restore and the other mental health organisations in the county. Meanwhile, very little is known about how the positive health effects of Restore’s hands-on activities are generated, because the variables measured reflect very little about the processes of therapeutic interventions. Considering that the Charity’s most highly valued outcome is the ‘discharge’ of service users from Restore, it is evident that such standardised measurements permit only very limited reflection on the exact health impacts of the Charity’s hands-on activities, especially how they contribute to the service user’s very diverse journeys towards recovery.

My doctoral research, by contrast, experiments with a sensory-relational approach to evaluate the multiple efficacies(1) of Restore’s hands-on activities. These hands-on activities are gardening, craftwork, and catering. Building on the sensory medical anthropology currently developed at Oxford, this approach highlights the intercorporeal relations(2) cultivated by the practice of body techniques(3) that ‘empot’(4) people and materials into spaces enmeshed and textured by the so-called ‘lines of lives’(5). Specifically, my thesis examines how the hands-on activities enacting body techniques in different spatial arrangements help to restore people’s intercorporeal relations with each other, and how the intercorporeal relations cultivated in the recovery groups of Restore alleviate the lived conditions of mental illness by energising and enskilling the body, cultivating caring relations at work, and offering opportunities for the service users’ transitions into volunteering roles within the charity. Overall, the sensory-relational account highlights that recovery at Restore is enabled through empotment and emplotment into Restore. Hence, if the goal of ‘discharge’ was the only measure of therapeutic outcome, it would be paradoxical to the above logic of healing.


1. The multiple efficacies discussed in medical anthropology parallel the ontological multiplicity of the body (Mol 2002), the medical pluralism (Leslie 1976, Nichter 2002) and therapeutic itineraries (Samuelsen 2004). The term refers to the diverse epistemologies to explore the treatment efficacies, especially the evaluative approaches that highlight the processes of therapeutic interventions and the lived experiences of the patients.

My exploration of the multiple efficacies is especially inspired by Moerman (2002), Whyte, Van der Geest, and Hardon (2003), Hsu (2011), Halliburton (2016), and Csordas (2021).

2. The intercorporeal relations coined in my thesis draws on the term intercorporeality (intercorporéité), a phenomenological concept originated from Maurice Merleau-Ponty (Merleau-Ponty [1960]1964, [1964]1968). The concept is introduced to medical anthropology mainly by Thomas Csordas (2008), while my understanding of the term is also enlightened by Dermot Moran (2017).

3. My analysis of the practices of body techniques builds heavily on Nick Crossley (2007) and Hsu (2019)’s reading of Marcel Mauss’s body techniques and social morphology (Mauss [1934]1973, [1904-5]2004) in combination with Merleau-Ponty ([1945]1962)’s Phenomenology of Perception.

4. The notion of empotment (Hsu 2022) elaborates on Cheryl Mattingly (1998)’s idea of emplotment. While emplotment comes through illness narratives, empotment emphasises the body’s sensory engagement and the learning of techniques.

5. Here I draw on Tim Ingold’s ecology of materials (Ingold 2012) and the concept of meshwork (Ingold 2008, 2011) he borrows from Henri Lefebvre ([1974]1991). My reference of the textured space draws on Hsu (2022) who is inspired by Merleau-Ponty and Lefebvre.