Staying with the trouble: questions raised during the inaugural ‘Mad Studies’ stream at Lancaster University’s Disability Studies conference

by Brigit McWade, Lancaster University, UK.

15th September 2014

Mad Studies is about far more than the Byzantine world of psychiatry and its allied disciplines. The stakes are higher still, for to study madness is to probe the very foundations of our claims to being human. For this reason alone – and there are many more – “Mad” matters to us all. (LeFrançois, Menzies & Reaume, 2013, p. 21)

This week has been revolutionary for me. The stream was everything I had hoped for when Peter and I first embarked upon its organisation. It was of great importance to us that we foster a space for ongoing dialogue throughout the conference on the possibilities and problems of ‘mad studies’. We weren’t disappointed. Many delegates commented on the welcoming and open atmosphere. Personally, being part of that space felt unusually comfortable for an academic conference. This comfort, a space to be ourselves, allowed us to draw a collective strength to discuss our discomforts with the world; to “stay with the trouble” as Donna Haraway always reminds us to do.

I’d like to share some questions that arose this week:

  • Should ‘mad studies’ become a new academic discipline? What are costs and benefits?
  • Who are we (mad studies)? What are our ethics (Lucy Costa)? What should mad research methodology be (Kathryn Church)? How do we develop a ‘mad praxis’ (Peter Beresford)?
  • Where is the ‘studying’ taking place (Kathryn Church)? How do we avoid ghettoization, or conversely dilution and appropriation?
  • What are our key terms and theories (Brenda LeFrancois; Richard Brunner)?
  • If we offer ‘mad studies’ modules how do make those lessons sustainable for students engaging with other disciplines that deny or contradict mad knowledge (Jijian Voronka)?
  • What are our interests in the context of collaboration with others (what Lucy Costa called ‘dangerous engagements’)? These could be universities, other academic disciplines, lawyers, social workers, mental health professionals, etc.
  • What is to be done when emancipatory concepts developed and used by activists – recovery, hope, inclusion, access – have been colonised or used to further oppress and silence psychiatric survivors and the mad community?
  • How has the increased visibility of madness resulted in mediations that are ‘slick, sexy, and cool’ (Lucy Costa)? Mediations that fail to address the “reality” of distress by avoiding issues of violence (Alison Wilde)? Or, anti-stigma campaigns that only allow ‘sanitised stories’ which don’t speak of ongoing struggles, intimate details of distress, or the socio-economic and political barriers such as welfare reform (Victoria Armstrong)?
  • How can a mad studies approach tricky issues such as violence and other interpersonal/relational difficulties (Jill Anderson, Helen Spandler & Bob Sapey)?
  • What can ‘mad studies’ do to address the increasing psychiatrization, dispossession, funding cuts, austerity measures, toxic neoliberalism, and alienation (Kate Mattheys; Mick McKeown; Brigit McWade)?
  • What common ground and alliances can be found (Mick McKeown)? For example, with critical disability studies, the neurodiversity movement, trade unions, (other) user-led initiatives? How can this be international?

I share these as we were mindful that there were many voices not represented in the stream, and we hope that future events will include participants from outside academia. We did discuss possible solutions to these questions, but I leave these for other presenters and interested folks to take up. I only hope to continue being part of the conversation.

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