29th Sept 2016: Mad Studies; The Emergence of a New Field of Knowledge by Alex Dunedin

Come along to People Know How, first floor in Ocean Terminal from 6pm to listen to Alex tell us about Mad Studies…


Title of talk:

Mad Studies; The Emergence of a New Field of Knowledge by Alex Dunedin

Elwood and Harvey
Elwood and Harvey

Bullet points of what you would like to talk about:

  • Challenging Psychiatry and Institutionalisation; a new field of academia
  • How mental health has sometimes been used to control people
  • The medical model of human behaviour in an industrial age of chemistry
  • Who started the ball rolling ? Richard Ingram coining the term Mad Studies
  • Who is involved in creating the field of Mad Studies


A few paragraphs on your subject:

“Mad Studies is not about separatism, empire building or marginalisation; nor is it about academic or professional elitism.  Instead, Mad Studies centres the knoweldges of those deemed mad, bolsetered on the periphery by the important relationships, work and support of allies – or by those who comport themselves as mad-positive.  This allows those of us deemed mad to formulate and advance our own understandings, theories, research, actions, practices and knowledges, each of which carries an inherently enahnced credibility because of direct experience”

Brenda A LeFrancois, Page v, ‘Searching For A Rose Garden; Challenging Psychiatry, Fostering Mad Studies’, PCCS Books

I have just returned from the 2016 Lancaster Disabilities conference where ‘Mad Studies’ was one of the key focuses of the overall conference.  This brought academics, scholars, mad-activists and general thinkers together to present, discuss and share issues and ideas about madness and the issues which follow this all-encompassing label.  I think this is an important field of study which is emerging which, after centuries of silence, is valuing the voices, experiences and stories of the people who have had to live under such labels.

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This is happening because it needs to.  No longer can we afford to wholesale medicate for issues which are caused through social deprivation, cultural impoverishment and ossified institutional structures.  People are finding that the drugs dont work, that they sometimes (arguably often) put people into a worse situation, and the issues which are causing anxiety – depression – breakdown are being sidestepped as social causes of mental illness.  Poor employers, poor employment situations, lack of opportunities, stigma, debt, poverty, the arbitrary power of corporations in people’s lives are generally missing in our enquiries about madness up until now.
As people are put into these hard places, so are the people in professional roles who are meant to bring support.  The current paradigm for the way we as a society are viewing mental health is working about as well as rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.  Mad Studies brings a valuable contribution to developing the understandings we need to evolve to a society which values people and makes them better.  I shall be tracing some of the history of the subject, highlighting the importance of critical analysis, and talking about some of the complexities which dont lend themselves to easy solutions.

A few paragraphs about you:

I am an independent researcher who has been involved in community education for six years.  I have been interested to see the emergence of academic groups and courses across the world looking not at the clinicians thinkings, but at the person who is recieving the attentions of the clinicians.  This has caught my attention because, for me, it moves the realm of psychiatry into one which is up for debate.  I am aware of how homosexuality was used to lock people up for ‘being mad’; I am aware of how abuses of power have been perpetuated on women via their husbands through the ages using psychiatry as a tool; I am aware that many people who represent inconvenient truths have suffered from psychiatrisation.
Now I am involved in gathering together the unsaid stories, the unchampioned perspectives which are lacking from our institutional discourse, so that they can be brought into a collective discussion and valued for what they are – often telling insights into pathologies of our society.  We can no longer afford to medicate prior to raising questions, or ignore social justice issues which bring about illness in sections of the population. I hope you will join me to find out more about Mad Studies and how you can be involved.

What free internet knowledge resources would you recommend to others if they wish to explore your chosen theme further?

One of the key places where Mad Studies has emerged as an academic discipline is Ryerson University in Toronto.  Here are some of the videos which they have made:


Oor Mad History: A local project which has been doing ‘Mad activism’ for many years and provides a valuable meeting point where people can contribute to the field of Mad Studies as well as organising many different events around the issues of mental health:


AdvoCard is an Edinburgh based service user-led, independent advocacy organisation. Services are primarily for people with experience of mental ill-health and provide opportunities for people to participate more effectively in decisions that affect all aspects of their lives.