- Unsettling Disciplines:Madness, Identity, Research, Knowledge
When invited to edit a special issue of Philosophy, Psychiatry, and Psychology on the theme ‘critical underpinnings of user/survivor research and co-production,’ our initial goal was to foreground explicit discussions of the philosophical and critical theory claims that undergird intellectual and political interventions into research and knowledge production led by, involving, or, in one way or another, ‘featuring’ the work of mental health service users and survivors. From our specific locations (the United Kingdom and the United States) and backgrounds (one working as a researcher in the community and the other within the academia, when the project commenced), we were aware of, engaged with and contributed to what could be called a user/survivor researcher ‘movement’ and discourse. As we prepared the call for papers and worked to disseminate it internationally through our networks and contacts, it quickly became apparent that the project of creating a ‘global’ picture of our initial goal was riddled with challenges. With some key exceptions, both user/survivor research and ‘mad theory’ remain Euro-American phenomena and, by and large, the papers in this edition reflect this geopolitical specificity. Even in countries where the concept and practice of user/survivor research are very much part of the broader discourse on mental health research, efforts to promote and/or implement various ‘inclusion,’ ‘involvement,’ or ‘participation’ schemes have generally not been matched by critical scholarship, and the ‘scholarly’ as well as disciplinary status of user/survivor research remains unclear. In addition, despite relative gains in the status of user/survivor research and uptake of service user involvement in research, particularly in countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, and Australia, service users and survivors continue to represent a tiny fraction of the overall research and evaluation workforce in academia, service delivery organizations, and the community. Depending on the country and region, available funding for service user-led research and evaluation (whether in the private or public sector, in the academy or in the community) is typically still modest or altogether absent. Dedicated leadership and career development support for students and emerging researchers with ‘psychiatric disabilities’ are largely unavailable (Jones & Brown, 2013).
The process of commissioning and reviewing articles and commentaries, and interacting with the many actors involved, introduced a range of additional challenges and complications. We review each of these in turn. [End Page 183]
Unsettling Canonical Philosophy
The ‘outsider’ status of most user/survivor academics is, we assume, relatively uncontroversial. Multiple barriers to full participation across academic fields remain: departments or centers, chairs, and appointments focused on critical and activist mental health scholarship and user involvement are rare or non-existent, and it remains unusual for philosophy and theory-focused conferences and events to explicitly encourage and prioritize the representation and leadership of activist scholars, particularly those who identify as user/survivors. Across national boundaries, the majority of self-identified user/survivor researchers we know (or came in contact with through the development of this special issue) have pursued careers in applied mental health services research or evaluation—arguably the areas in which user participation is more readily valued and for which there are the greatest number of funding opportunities and resources. Even when research focused, available positions are often located outside the academy proper. Many of the user researchers with explicit formal academic training in theory or philosophy that we interacted with were either forced to leave these programs owing to the onset of disability/distress or, in some cases, because of more overt forms of discrimination or exclusion, or discouraged from pursuing a theory-focused career. For others, what might have been theory-focused academic trajectories have been derailed by periods of distress or disability and/or a commitment to more concrete changes within the service sector. Anger and frustration with institutions, structures, and academic leadership that continue to directly and indirectly exclude user/survivor voices were rarely far from the surface in our conversations, as well as concerns about opportunistic forms of partnership and collaboration, advancing the interests of non-user academics motivated more by the exigencies of their own academic...