Mad Studies Network – Shared Principles

We have worked together with those subscribed to the mailing list to develop some shared principles to inform our future collective work. These are:

  1. We aim to work towards making and preserving space for mad people’s knowledges and histories within the academy and within services.
  2. We aim to protect mad studies from co-option and appropriation as the new and fashionable thing to “do”, or something to make profit from. This involves not being too excited by its prospects ourselves and taking time to consider what will be most beneficial and for whom.
  3. We aim to achieve parity of involvement between and contributions from psychiatric survivors, mental health service-users, academics (noting that these might be overlapping roles) and the wider mad community.
  4. We aim to reflect mad studies as an international endeavour, whilst being mindful of local specificities.
  5. We aim to work in inclusive, accessible, anti-oppressive ways that are as comfortable as possible for everyone who might want to get involved, regardless of mobility and access issues, or other barriers they may face. Shaping Our Lives ground rules offer some collectively developed guidance for this.
  6. We do not seek to impose new orthodoxies on anyone, but at the same time we support critical thinking about the medicalization of madness and distress.
  7. We are happy to work with any individual or organisation that is prepared to work with us on truly equal terms in line with our values and principles.

We welcome comments to these principles. If you would like to be part of the ongoing conversation, please subscribe here.

11 thoughts on “Mad Studies Network – Shared Principles

  1. Just a few thoughts.

    While I agree that co-optation and appropriation are ever present risks, it seems a bit premature, defensive perhaps, to cite concerns about the “fashionable” of mad studies, profitability and the like. What does this look like? Where is it happening?

    I see the much more pressing co-optation as that of co-opting of “mad” experience. Who speaks as mad? For whom? What pressures exist within putatively critical spaces to flatten differences in experience along lines of ability or impairments (resisting language that attempts, however imperfectly, to signal these and subsume them under superordinate terms? Who does this serve?

    On another note. If the aim is to be critical, to not “impose new orthodoxies,” then, well, lets not impose new orthodoxies. Lets not begin by disciplining mad studies. There is already anti-psychiatry. There is already the survivor movement. Mad studies, to encompass the heterogeneity of experiences, perspectives, social identities, and indeed choices of “our” people must be much broader than that. To impose a Foucauldian or Marxist reading can amount to a form of paternalism, just as imposing a psychoanalytic or biomedical one. Besides, it risks missing the point of genealogy or critique.

    To delineate boundaries around a similitude of the ineffable difference of “madness” will be doomed to failure, as it always has been. Lets not fail in the same old ways.


    • Thanks for these comments Timothy. We’re really hoping that these principles can begin a dialogue like this.

      During the Mad Studies stream at Lancaster Disability Studies conference in September this year, participants spent some time discussing if our collective aim should be establishing ‘mad studies’ as a discipline. There were many thoughts on this. If you see the blog post ‘Staying with the trouble…’ you will see the kind of questions we addressed.

      We were fortunate to have Kathryn Church, Lucy Costa and Jijian Voronka who all teach ‘mad studies’ in Canada with us. They talked about the troubles they face in making space for ‘mad studies’ in the corporatising university, where the only academic activity that is supported is one that returns a profit.

      We also heard papers (including my own) on the co-option of activist terms in policy and practice – like recovery and inclusion – in ways that politically neutralise them, and use them to service neoliberal/market capitalism and all its evils.

      When we talk about co-option we have these two issues in mind.

      There are some members of the network (e.g. subscribed to the mailing list/following the blog) who feel strongly about medicalization, and the lack of spaces for non-medical approaches to madness. There are others who feel the “problem” is much broader than that. This point I think indicates, as we discussed at the mad studies stream, that if there is to be a ‘mad studies’ at all, there needs to be important conceptual and theoretical work to realise this.

      I agree with the limits of identity politics based on sameness – this universalising move will always marginalise some people. It is my hope that mad studies can, as you say, ‘encompass the heterogeneity of experiences, perspectives, social identities’. I have a particular hopes for alliance activism. In this spirit we are hoping to organise an event exploring the connections and disconnections between mad studies and neurodiversity in 2015.

      I would love to hear what other members of the network think.

      Brigit McWade
      (I run the wordpress site and mailing list)

      Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Timothy,

      I recently read your essay with Nev Jones “Inconvenient Complications: On the Heterogeneities of Madness and their Relationship to Disability” and I really appreciated the arguments and points you were raising in that essay. Sincerely, it’s a great paper.
      I have been thinking through similar ideas particularly in relation to class and marginalisation. We also touched (albeit briefly) on these issues at the Mad Studies conference but then got sidetracked with more appetizing conversations about research methodology as well as the over use of the term, “emancipatory research” and what the hell that really means these days.

      Of course Mad Studies runs the risk of becoming “fashionable,” “chic” and “hip”! Look at “recovery” and the Machiavellian sneeze it has evolved into; “recovery” circulates everywhere in mh and is an utterly impotent and boring tableau.

      A few more concepts that have become fashionable but have yet to yield golden eggs and promised political structural changes:
      -Cultural competencies
      and my new personal favourite: “patient engagement”

      In Canada, I am already trying to fend off eager self-serving academics wanting to guzzle down what we have yet to even build in Mad Studies or Mental Studies or Lunatic Studies – whatever we call it. While I don’t want to say these people are the devil personified, I will argue that some of them have nefarious intentions. We must kill them. Ok . . . well, not kill them, but maybe just tell them to ‘back off’ and share the research funding.

      In mho, I don’t feel we are delineating boundaries around a similitude or differences of “madness” I think we are trying to formulate some understanding about which ideas matter most, and how we make choices with the least harm to all. I think the (collective, rich and poor) WE (unfortunately) need to make choices of what we can or cannot stomach. Let’s call them principles?

      I am feeling optimistic until further notice!! 🙂


      • Thanks Lucy, didn’t have the benefit of your response when I replied above. Likewise, I’ve read and very much appreciated your paper on recovery narratives. I do wonder how differences in the US vs the Canadian context are informing perspectives here?

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi, Timothy and Brigit
    I can hear Timothy’s concerns around making Mad Studies an academic discipline and what that means. I can also hear and share what I understand as Timothy’s wish/concern that ‘Mad studies, to encompass the heterogeneity of experiences, perspectives, social identities, and indeed choices of “our” people’, would need to be a broad or broader endeavour. I think all these are really crucial issues that need to be worked on through debate and dialogue.
    I guess my concern is that amidst all the differing existing and emergent frameworks for critiquing biomedical psychiatry and its often oppressive practices (ie anti-psychiatry, critical psychiatry, critiques from radical therapists, critiques from the psychiatric/mental health system survivor movement, the now emergent Mad Studies) and also amist the very legitimate and important claims to the heterogeneity of experiences and social identities characterising mental health service users/survivors/the mad, we should not forget that there is something very strong that unites people who have been psychiatrised and suffered within the mental health system and within the social system at large as a result of their experiences of mental distress. What- in my experience- unites these people (and I am one of them) is a shared sense of injustice, humiliation, powerlessness and loss of voice/silencing within an oppressive mental health system. I know that we all experience the injustice, humiliation, powerlessness and loss of voice/silencing differently and as individuals (see intersectionality) but nevertheless we do have a shared experience of oppression that somehow can create and does create bonds between us. No matter how we theorise this shared experience of oppression, I feel it is imperative to make efforts to avoid diluting its collective and shared nature through an over-emphasis on how much we differ. We do differ but we also share.I feel Mad Studies need to keep hold of this.


    Liked by 1 person

  3. It quickly becomes apparent how necessary it will be to build and maintain a politics of difference that values human variation and recognizes the equal merit of different embodiment and ways of experiencing (see Loja, Costa, Hughes, & Menezes, 2013 and McRuer, 2010). Our internal and external politics must be near perfect mirrors of one another.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi, Casadi
    I can see your interest in a politics of difference.
    However, the references you are using (Loja et al and McRuer) come from Disability Studies and are concerned (the Loja et al at least) with physical impairments. In my experience, people with physical disabilities and people with experiences of madness and distress are characterised by similarities but also critical differences when it comes to how they experience their idenities and what are the issues they view as vital in the construction of their experiences. In your comment above, are you referring to people with physical disabilities or people with experieces of madness and distress? I think it is far from helpful to treat these two groups as the same – even though there are important similarities between them.

    Dina Poursanidou

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m drawing on their principles for building community and acting in resistance to biological reductionism and sanism. Some disability scholars have written some truly beautiful work on which we can build. I’ve read Tom Shakespeare and been moved to tears. I fully acknowledge that his experience isn’t mine. The madness communities are highly diverse both in terms of intersecting identities and in terms of the meanings made of lived experience of mental distress or “embodied irrationality” (Mulvany coined that last term). What I mean to be stressing is the importance of valuing diversity within madness groups so as to best carry a message to others that we be treated as equals in terms of human rights.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. To add just a little to the conversation, I would echo concerns with diversity & heterogeneity, but also stress the need for broad, ‘systems-level’ attention to internal issues of representation. I.e. who is speaking for or ‘representing’ whom and what are the implications of such representation in terms of the issues that are ultimately foregrounded (or, conversely, de-prioritized or overlooked). This is perhaps especially true when it comes to coalitional political organizing (i.e. national and international user/consumer/survivor coalitions). So, for example, do we prioritize cuts to welfare subsidies, lack of access to medications of choice or ‘traditional’ mental health services, the inaccessibility of supported employment and education services for most of those who would benefit from them, exploding incarceration rates (at least in the US), police violence, etc. or instead involuntary treatment, (over-)medicalization, over-diagnosis, over-prescribing of psychotropic meds for mild or non-impairing conditions or experiences. At least in some cases, I do think one can identify a troubling lack of attention to the basic needs and preferences of those who are in fact the most marginalized, socioeconomically and sociopolitically….

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Dina points to an “us” whose identity is formed against oppression within the psychiatric system. Khaki points to “human variation.” We need to be mindful to different ways of organizing what it might mean to be “mad.” For some it is no doubt about experiences of oppression. For others it’s more about experiential-even embodied-difference. I think we need to be clear that these don’t always overlap. If one person, for instance, identifies as a survivor and rejects any sense that they are “different” apart from being labeled, and another person identifies with some experiential difference, names it with a diagnostic term, is perfectly content with their psychiatric treatment, it should not be the business of a “mad studies” to promote one of these above the other.

    I think where things get even more troubling-and what Nev is pointing to-is how these differences in perspective, experience and etc. play out in terms of political organizing and advocacy. “Recovery” is a great case in point. While no doubt the term is taken up, as Brigit notes, and politically neutralized in some services contexts, equally it is deployed in what I would call ableist or saneist ways in many survivor contexts. Often there are outright denials of actual impairments, insistences upon particular explanatory frameworks (trauma, spiritual emergency), double standards regarding choice and self determination (if you choose to reject psychiatry, thats liberation; if you choose to take medication, that’s internalized stigma).

    I’m increasingly convinced that in the US context at least, an often narrow and ideological focus on certain issues, as Nev points out, is actually polarizing things in ways that are working against the interests of those most marginalized among us.

    In my view, we can do better than a “mad studies” boundaried by an anti-psychiatry ideology or a survivor identity. Besides, I think the more interesting, more useful questions are precisely those that face these complications head on, that attend much more to the “microphysics of power.”

    There’s a lot of smart and compassionate people involved in these discussions. I just hope we can embrace the complexity. Let’s not be too hasty to promote one perspective.


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