Mad Studies & Neurodiversity Symposium archive

Mad Studies and Neurodiversity – exploring connections

Wednesday 17th June 2015 – Lancaster University 10am to 5pm

Funders: Centre for Disability Research and the Department of Sociology, Lancaster University.

Organisers: Brigit McWade and Peter Beresford

Advisory Group: Hannah Morgan, Damian Milton, Steve Graby, Helen Spandler

This symposium built on conversations that begun during the first Mad Studies stream at Lancaster Disability Studies Conference in September 2014. It aimed to foster dialogue between two relatively new areas of scholarship and activism in the social sciences – that of Mad Studies and Neurodiversity.

Mad Studies and Neurodiversity are both emergent areas of scholarship that aim to bring the ‘experiences, history, culture, political organising, narratives, writings and most importantly, the PEOPLE who identify as: Mad; psychiatric survivors; consumers; service users; mentally ill; patients; neuro-diverse; inmates; disabled – to name a few of the “identity labels” our community may choose to use’ (Costa, 2014) to the academic table. To date, academic activities around madness and neurological divergence have failed to include those with lived experience, who are ‘frequently frozen out of the processes of knowledge production’ (Milton, 2014, p. 794). This is not limited to the big business of pharmaceuticals, or the biological or genetic research that seeks to identify bio-markers for and eradicate autism, schizophrenia and the like. Indeed, much of social scientific work in these areas may aim, but continually fail, to include lived expertise equally, positioning patients/users/survivors as outsiders, objects for interpretation and research ‘on’ rather than ‘with’ (Beresford and Russo, 2014; Milton and Bracher, 2013).

A key outcome of the 2014 Mad Studies stream in Lancaster was the call for more time and space being devoted to the development of theories, concepts and tools in order to build Mad Studies into an established academic discipline. One area of interest highlighted the relationship of both neurodiversity and Mad Studies to Disability Studies. In particular, Steven Graby (2015) has written about how neurodiversity might provide a conceptual bridge between the activism of psychiatric survivors/mental health service-users and the Disabled People’s Movement.

This symposium aims to provide a forum for both mad-identified and neurodivergent stakeholders to develop knowledge in this area by exploring the following questions:

  • What do the neurodiversity and mad studies movements have to say to each other?
  • What concepts might help us explore our shared experiences and our differences?
  • How might we make space in the academy for mad and neurodivergent-infused knowledges and practices?



Watch Melanie Yergeau’s presentation – Narrating the Neuroqueer:

Brigit will be writing a report on the event to share the discussions in more detail soon. Some more references and details of talks will also be posted in the near future.

But for now… to get a flavour of the discussion you can view the storify from the Mad Studies & Neurodiversity Symposium tweets.

And you can also… read Naomi Jacob’s reflections on accessibility and academic conferences which includes discussion of what the Mad Studies and Neurodiversity Symposium achieved and where it could have been improved. Valuable lessons for future event organisers! More to follow on this subject soon.

Further Reading

Graby, S. (2015) Neurodiversity: bridging the gap between the Disabled People’s Movement and the Mental Health System Survivors’ Movement? in H. Spandler, J. Anderson & B. Sapey Madness, Distress and the Politics of Disablement. Policy Press.

McWade, B., Milton, D. & Beresford, P. (2015) Mad Studies and Neurodiversity: a dialogue. Disability & Society 30 (2): 305-309.

Russo, J. & Beresford, P. (2015). Between exclusion and colonisation: seeking a place for mad people’s knowledge in academia. Disability & Society 30 (1): 153-157.

Check out Autonomy, the Journal of Interdisciplinary Autism Studies

Kirsten Maclean talks about Oor Mad History

Melanie Yergeau talks about neuroqueer

Mel Baggs blog post as quoted by Steve Graby in his presentation

3 thoughts on “Mad Studies & Neurodiversity Symposium archive

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