Madness & the Demand for Recognition

After more than three and a half years of (almost) continuous work, I have finally completed my book Madness and the Demand for Recognition: A Philosophical Inquiry into Identity and Mental Health Activism.

You can find the table of contents, foreword, preface, and introduction: HERE


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, this book is the first 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 finds its sources in the work of Georg Hegel and Immanuel Kant, and continues in 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.

mandess cover


Abstract for the 15th International Philosophy & Psychiatry Conference: July 2012: Safety in Numbers and Crazy Cultures: the Limits of Diagnosis

With Natalie Banner, Rachel Bingham, Norman Poole, Roman Pawar, and Abdi Sanati

This workshop considers the role of community in understandings of normality. In 1994, the DSM added a caveat to the definition of mental disorder, that cultural congruence protects individual’s beliefs and values from being labelled as pathological. This reflected a blossoming political and ideological notion of ‘tolerance’, which now underpins widespread efforts to respect – and not alienate – communities with non-mainstream value systems and beliefs. The INPP 2012 conference reflects continued efforts to understand and embrace difference and promote tolerance. Yet, mental disorder is fundamentally about ‘difference’, and is by definition not tolerated but treated. We therefore propose the following presentations in an exploration of ‘difference’ as it arises within, and between, communities. The first presentation questions why it is that a single individual with an unshakable and dangerous value system may sometimes be diagnosed with a mental disorder, while an unshakable and dangerous value system held by a group may be criminal, but is not ‘pathological’. The second presentation considers the features of communities which protect against diagnosis. We consider the dependence of this immunity on being sufficiently  organised and having a discourse and dialogue of acceptability or tolerance. The final presentation discusses the successes of the homosexual civil rights movement in establishing a respected orientation as opposed to a repressed medical condition. We consider the conceptual problems illuminated by this shift, which reveal important features of diagnosis itself.

Relevant links:

INPP Conference 2012 Website

Breivik Trial

Hearing Voices Movement

Pro-Ana Blog

Book Review: Delusions & the Madness of the Masses

Delusions and the Madness of the Masses is the latest book by Lawrie Reznek, a writer whose work is associated with the field of the Philosophy of Psychiatry. Ambitious both in scope and intent, this book is the latest installment in a tradition of works that employ the language of pathology and disorder — normally understood to apply to individuals — to describe whole societies and belief-systems. One is reminded of Freud’s (1969) assertion — which Reznek cites — that religion is mass delusion; of Edgerton’s (1992) characterization of some pre-modern societies as “sick”; of Dawkin’s (2006) polemic against God, belief in which he describes as delusional. While, thus, not original, Reznek’s thesis — that certain subcultures, groups, and sometimes whole communities can be deluded and should be described as such — is arrived at primarily through philosophical argument rather than psychoanalytic insight or a perusal of detailed anthropological data. On the whole, and for reasons discussed below, I do not believe that Reznek has done enough to convincingly advance his thesis.