"Mental Illness and Power"

Dates: February 21-22, 2014

Location: University Center - River Room & Senate Chamber

Keynote Speakers: David M. Goodman (Assistant Professor of Psychology and Director of the Psychology and the Other Institute, Lesley University; Harvard University Medical School) and Mary Beth Mader (Professor of Philosophy, University of Memphis)

Conference Program

Conference Description

As much historical and theoretical work has shown, the way people have understood mental illness throughout history is co-occurrent with shifting power relations within which human beings understand themselves. Mental illness manifests itself in different ways in different contexts and certain theoretical lines can be drawn between the way mental illness is understood and the forms of power which operate on the human mind, body and understanding. Recently many issues surrounding mental illness have become prominent in public discourse. To name a few examples, the controversial publication of the DSM 5; attempts by legislators to allow mental health professionals to refuse services based on values; the investigations of the mental health of mass murderers; and the expansion of mental health coverage intended by the Affordable Care Act. These issues have all been featured prominently on the nightly news while at the same time drawing the attention of public intellectuals and politicians. With this in mind, it seems that now is an opportune moment to open a dialogue about the relationship of mental illness and power.

Philosophy provides a promising, critical, yet constructive space in which to open this dialogue. Indeed, philosophy and the mental health professions have greatly influenced one another. Some philosophers are critical of mental health practices while others use psychological insights to develop their own theoretical resources. Many psychological theories have historically been influenced by philosophers, whether John Locke, the positivists, or the existentialists. Thus, philosophers and mental health professionals have much to share with one another, especially at this moment.

The Philosophy Graduate Student Association welcomes papers from philosophers of all stripes and theoretically interested scholars in other fields, including but not limited to: clinical mental health counseling, rehabilitation counseling, psychology, psychiatry, history, literature and the arts, and political science/studies.

Possible motivating questions include:

  • Is mental illness really an (type of) illness? If so, what is its nature?
  • Can the experience of mentally ill persons be understood or shared? If so, what method(s) can accomplish this goal?
  • What is the relationship between power, rationality and mental illness?
  • What is the nature of the power to which the mentally ill are subject?
  • Should mental illness be diagnosed, and if so, what should the role of diagnosis be?
  • What sort of ethics could best inform the practices of counseling, psychology, and psychiatry? Alternatively, what sort of ethics could be gained from listening to those in counseling, psychology, or psychiatry?
  • How can a history of madness help us to understand current practices and knowledges regarding the mentally ill?
  • How can we best analyze the place of the mentally ill in contemporary politics?
  • What can we learn from portrayals of mental illness in the various media, film, literature, music, and the visual arts?
  • What are the liberatory potentials of psychotherapy?

Submission Information

Please prepare a proposal (500-700 words in length) for blind review in either .pdf or Microsoft Word file format. Send the file as an attachment to an e-mail with a body containing the title and the author's name, contact information, institutional affiliation and status (graduate student, faculty member, independent researcher, etc.) If accepted, final papers need to be suitable for a presentation approximately 20 minutes in length.

Proposals should be submitted to memphispgsa@gmail.com.

Submissions Due: November 15th, 2013

We have reserved a block of rooms at the Holiday Inn on the University of Memphis campus. They offer a two-room suite for the price of a standard double room, $119.54. If you are interested, you can contact the hotel at 1.800.252.8758 and mention the "Mental Illness and Power Conference." You may need the group code, which is EG1.