Healthy Folk – The role of vernacular knowledge in health-related decision-making

Applications are invited for an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award at The Open University, in partnership with The Folklore Society. 

This fully-funded studentship is available from October 2024. Further details about the value of an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP award are available on the DTP’s studentships page

Closing date: 9th January 2024, midday UK time

Project overview

We have access to more health information than ever before. Through the internet we can share stories and anecdotes and connect with others who have similar health concerns.   In particular, the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the significance of health (mis)information in the age of connectedness.  The sharing of informal (vernacular) knowledge like personal experience narratives, popular beliefs, contemporary legends, rumours, friend-of-a-friend stories and so on is central to the study of folklore. However, applied folklore research is a novel and emerging field in UK folklore studies. This project between the Folklore Society and the School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care at The Open University supports a bold new interdisciplinary approach to addressing health inequalities.

This opportunity draws together folklore studies and health research and addresses the role of vernacular knowledge in health-related decision-making. Vernacular knowledge is the unofficial, informal and everyday culture of a group. This includes the communication of ‘medical knowledge’ in lay terms. Distinct from commonplace understandings of ‘folklore’, the origins of vernacular knowledge may be very recent, and it is often fluid and contemporary. Vernacular knowledge, through telling and re-telling, adapts and changes to respond to new ideas, discourses and technologies.

The health-related focus of the project is left purposefully open, to be refined by the candidate in alignment with their own research interests, and in consultation with the Supervisors.  Possible topics may include:

  • Reproduction - pregnancy, childbirth, and contraception
  • Young people - vaccinations, early years and well being
  • Healthy bodies - perceptions of healthy eating and exercise
  • Healthy minds - mental wellbeing and resilience
  • Community and connectedness - belonging, place and social capital
  • Managing chronic conditions e.g. diabetes 

The project will take a participatory approach. Volunteer researchers will be recruited through community-based healthcare organisations, for example service-user support groups, parent and baby groups, health condition charities. An element of co-design will be utilised in the refining of the area of research with the candidate seeking the opinions of the health-community researchers on the project focus and tools. Community researchers will be an involved part of the ongoing research and the doctoral candidate will draw on community expertise to conduct semi-structured interviews. Archival materials from the Folklore Society collection will be used, where appropriate, as prompts for discussion in drawing historical-contemporary narrative comparisons. Once data collection is complete, the community researchers will be invited to join a ‘reflection group’ where they will feedback on findings. The reflection group will include members from both the Folklore Society and School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care at The Open University who will advise on public engagement activities and possible application of findings.   


The candidate will be co-supervised between The Open University and The Folklore Society. 

Dr Victoria Newton will act as Primary Supervisor at The Open University. Dr Newton’s existing research focusses on vernacular knowledge about the reproductive body including contraceptive decision-making and menstruation. Dr Newton leads the Reproduction, Sexualities and Sexual Health Research Group at the Open University. 

Emeritus Professor Richard Jenkins will take the supervisory role on behalf of the Folklore Society. An anthropologist, he is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Sheffield. 

The candidate shall have access to all Open University doctoral training opportunities in addition to folklore specific development opportunities. It is envisaged that, as part of their work with the Folklore Society, the student will act as ‘impact and engagement champion’ to initiate a special interest group within the Folklore Society on applied folklore.

In addition, the student will have access to the Folklore Society's extensive library and archives, a free student membership of the Society for the duration of the studentship (which includes a subscription to Folklore, one of the leading international journals in the field) and access to all Society events and networks.

How to apply 

We invite applications from candidates from all backgrounds and ethnicities. Applicants will ideally have a Masters in Folklore or related field and a strong interest participatory methods and/or health research. Applicants should meet the eligibility criteria for Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC studentships.
For an informal discussion about the opportunity and how you might frame your approach to the CDA project, please contact Dr Victoria Newton in the first instance.

To apply for an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP studentship, please complete OOC DTP Application Form, OU application form and supporting documents listed on the application from, Research proposal and a covering letter indicating your suitability to the project  and  send to by 9th January 2024 (midday, UK time)