‘Mad Studies’ is an emergent body of knowledge/scholarship in the field of mental health in the UK that has attracted considerable attention and debate.
As Brenda LeFrancois, Canadian academic, puts it during a talk that she gave on Madness, Sanism and Social Justice, ‘Mad Studies is an umbrella term that brings together critiques of diagnosis and intervention, centering psychiatric survivor and mad-identified knowledges and critiques’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RFNnPosrxeQ).
Concerns have been expressed, among others, around making Mad Studies an academic discipline and what that would entail. I can hear these concerns. I can also hear and share what I understand as a wish/concern that Mad studies, to encompass the heterogeneity of experiences, perspectives, social identities, and choices of ‘mad’ people’, would need to be a broad endeavour/project. I think these are legitimate and crucial concerns and issues that need to be worked on through debate and dialogue.
I guess my own concern is that amidst all the differing existing and emergent frameworks for critiquing biomedical psychiatry and its oppressive practices (i.e. anti-psychiatry, critical psychiatry, critiques from radical therapists, critiques from the psychiatric/mental health system survivor movement, the now emergent Mad Studies) and also amidst 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 the arguments around 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.