AboutFace is interdisciplinary and international, based in the UK but working comparatively across geographical and academic boundaries.

As the history of medicine shows, any form of innovative surgery raises questions about ethics, definitions of need, patient wellbeing and sustainability. Unlike other forms of surgery, however, face transplants draw attention to the meanings of personal and social identity, as the face is the organ most associated with emotions and the self in psychology, communication, culture and law.

Exploring the international history of face transplants, AboutFace considers these emotional as well as physical aspects, including how attitudes to face transplants compare to other emotional forms of transplantation, like hearts and hands. Through wide-ranging investigations with clinical teams, patients, and other researchers in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities, this project asks such questions as:

  • What are the geographical, political and economic factors that determine whether innovative surgery like face transplants take place? 
  • How are face transplants perceived by the organisations and individuals who perform (or may perform) them, and by recipients (and potential recipients) and their families?
  • How do cultural, social and national differences (including ethnicity, race and gender) affect the incidence and perceptions of face transplants?
  • How can history help us understand the impact of facial difference, surgery and transplantation in the present? 

We seek answers in detailed historical analysis and oral interviews, using a mixed methods approach and the approaches of cultural and emotional history to examine how face transplants are talked about, conceived, and depicted, in language and visual culture. Our findings will be shared here, and in books, articles, artworks, public engagement events, videos and podcasts. For more information see the Resources section.

Extended Surgical Teams

Face transplants have taken place in many countries around the world including the USA, Spain, Poland and Helsinki. We work with extended surgical teams (surgeons, nurses, prosthetists, physiotherapists, psychologists) in the UK and overseas, according to ethical approvals granted by the University of York Research Ethics Committee and the NHS Health Research Authority (HRA)

Patients and Families

The experiences of potential and actual face transplant patients are central to AboutFace research, and in understanding the emotional impact of facial transplantation on patients and their families.

A photograph of face transplant recipient, Katie Stubblefield, and her family

Institutions, Organisations and Policy Makers

While AboutFace is an independent research project, we work with diverse groups with different roles, priorities and agendas, ranging from advocacy organisations to healthcare institutions and regulatory bodies.

Media and Representation

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A stock photo of a phone screen

A great blog series on the 'ethics and emotions' of working with photography 👇

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