Madness & Recognition
Contemporary developments in mental health activism pose a radical challenge to psychiatric and societal understandings of madness. Mad Pride and mad-positive activism reject the language of mental illness and mental disorder, reclaim the term 'mad', and reverse its negative connotations. Not content with reform of psychiatry, activists seek cultural change in the way madness is viewed, and demand recognition of madness as grounds for identity. But can madness constitute such grounds? Is it possible to reconcile delusions, passivity phenomena, and the discontinuity of self often seen in certain mental health conditions with the requirements for identity formation presupposed by the theory of recognition? And, in any case, why does recognition matter, and how should society respond to such demands? Guided by these questions, my book Madness & the Demand for Recognition is a comprehensive philosophical examination of the claims and demands of Mad activism. Locating itself in the philosophy of psychiatry, Mad studies, and activist literatures, and in the tradition of philosophical thought on recognition, freedom, and identity that begins with Georg Hegel and Immanuel Kant, and continues into the present day through the work of Charles Taylor, Axel Honneth, Nancy Fraser, Kwame Appiah, and Richard Rorty, the book develops a rich theoretical framework for understanding, justifying, and responding to Mad activism's demand for recognition.
Oxford University Press, 2019.
Madness & Understanding
My current project examines the concepts and methods that must inform our attempts to make sense of extreme mental states in order for such attempts to simultaneously satisfy the need for understanding and the demand for recognition. The project employs mixed philosophical and qualitative methodologies. I engage with the following literatures: philosophical literature on understanding as an epistemological concept and as a concept in the philosophy of the social sciences; philosophy of psychiatry literature on understanding and the various mental health conditions; anthropological literature on methodological and theoretical approaches to the cross-cultural encounter. I am carrying out this research in my position as Wellcome Trust ISSF Research Fellow at the Department of Philosophy, Birkbeck College, University of London.
The Future of Psychiatry
Beginning in 2018, I began to think explicitly about issues relating to the future of psychiatry. This was prompted by an invitation to contribute to a special issue of the Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 'The Crisis in Psychiatric Science'. The title of my essay: The Identity of Psychiatry in the Aftermath of Mad Activism. I look forward to collaborations under the broad theme of 'the future of psychiatry'.
Culture & Mental Disorder
Defining a domain of suffering that rightfully belongs to medicine has been an important concern in the philosophy of psychiatry. This concern is partly motivated by the need to limit the expansion of psychiatry into areas of life that should remain unconnected to medicine such as bereavement and religious experience. Concurrently, the global reach of psychiatry and the multicultural nature of many societies have brought the normative assumptions of the tradition underpinning psychiatry in confrontation with a wide range of antithetical cultural values and beliefs. This can be seen, for example, in opposing views of certain (psychotic) modes of experiences as positive spiritual events in one context and signs of disorder in another. The boundaries of illness and therefore the domain of healthcare are heavily contested. In this context, culture presents an important source of variation in values and explanatory frameworks and is therefore an important influence on the nature and scope of the domain of healthcare.
Over a number of years I have explored a range of cultural influences on the domain of healthcare including definitional issues pertaining to the concept of culture; the impact of culture on the constitution of symptoms; the problem of cultural congruence in light of psychiatric diagnosis; culture and the phenomenology of 'psychosis'.