Radical Psychology
Volume Seven, Issue 2


Brenda A. LeFrançois

This special issue of Radical Psychology is comprised of texts based on presentations given at the Madness, Citizenship & Social Justice: A Human Rights Conference held at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver from June 12-15, 2008. This conference brought together a lively group of over 200 academics, survivors/service users, activists, artists, researchers and mental health professionals.  Participants came from as far as New Zealand, Australia, the UK, South Africa and the USA to join Canadian participants in addressing the issues of civil liberties, recovery, ‘sanism’, discrimination and oppression, amongst others.  This original conference, organised by Robert Menzies, included an inspired four days of not only paper presentations but also art exhibitions, theatre and film presentations. [1]  The conference website can be viewed at http://www.sfu.ca/madcitizenship-conference/

The first article “Theorizing Distress: Critical Reflections on Bi-polar and Borderline”, written by Christina Martens, reviews and critiques different theoretical understandings of distress, including the bio-medical model, anti-psychiatry, critical psychiatry, social constructionism and performativity.  These understandings are linked to the labels of “bi-polar” and “borderline” (the BPDs), along with a political examination of the performance of citizenship and it’s denial to those deemed both dependent and distressed.

In the second article “Stranger Neighbours”, Helen Douglas highlights three stories of madness and resistance during the South African apartheid. The interplay of the concepts of citizenship, social justice, inclusion\exclusion and identity are considered within these three narratives, along with an analysis of Levinas’ ethics of justice for the Other.  This context and analysis forms the backdrop for an important application to the current ‘treatment’ of the ‘mad neighbour’ in society.

The third article “Making Bipolar Britney: Proliferating Psychiatric Diagnoses Through Tabloid Media”, written by Jijian Voronka, provides a case study analysis of the media’s depiction of Britney Spears’ madness.  The ways in which the medical model, as the dominant discourse in ‘helping’ professions, is now being disseminated to the general pubic in order to also dominate layperson understandings of distress is considered.  The use of pop culture as a medium to ensure the targeting of a young and wide audience, with the media drawing specifically on knowledge from the ‘psy’ disciplines for the first time, represents an alarming broadening of the power of psychiatry within society.  Moreover, this article demonstrates that surveillance is ensured via the new ‘psy-media monitoring’, a term coined by Voronka, of the stars madness.

In the fourth article “A ‘Patient-Centred’ Path Toward Ignoring Patient Rights, Rob Wipond exposes the lack of attention paid to the civil rights of Canadian mental health patients in the Kirby Report. The report claims to recommend a more patient-centred approach to mental health care however Wipond’s analysis demonstrates that the report itself refuses to take a patient-centred approach.  Within this critical analysis of the Kirby report, the underlying assumptions and biases that are antithetical not only to the civil rights of patients but also to employing an empowering patient-centred approach to mental health treatment and care are detailed.

Fifth, the article entitled “We All Go Astray”, written by Leon Redler, an apprentice of RD Laing, re-looks at the core principles of the Philadelphia Association as well as Levinas’ concept of the Other in order to draw together an original and radical approach to understanding and responding to madness.

Our cover art is part of Sue Clark-Wittenberg’s ad campaign to end electroshock (ECT).  We believe it provides a powerful image\text that speaks volumes on the topic of disability rights, feminism and anti-psychiatry in one brief glimpse. [2]

[1] The conference was hosted by the Simon Fraser University Institute for the Humanities.  Funding for this conference was generously received from both the SFU Institute for the Humanities as well as from the SSHRC program: Aid to Research Workshops and Conferences in Canada.  Dr. Robert Menzies, the J.S. Woodsworth Resident Scholar, organised the conference.

[2] Sue Clark-Wittenberg is an antipsychiatry and anti-electroshock activist & speaker who lives in Ottawa, Canada.  She received the Coalition Against Psychiatirc Assault (CAPA)'s  award for "Lifetime Antipsychiatry Activism" in September 2008.  You can read Sue's story at her webiste: suzyo.wordpress.com Sue is also the Director of the International Campaign to Ban Electroshock (ICBE) icbe.wordpress.com.

Journal Page