Call for Papers: Alternative Psychiatric Narratives: May 16-17, 2014, Birkbeck College, University of London

In recent years, historians of psychiatry have heeded Roy Porter’s call to produce psychiatric histories from the patient’s point of view. Studies have moved on from focusing on medical discourse to investigating the diversity of the patient population, their varied experiences, and their pathways to and from psychiatric institutions. Only just beginning, however, is work which pays attention to alternative narratives of psychiatry: individuals and accounts that have been excluded or overlooked in the midst of this focus upon doctor and patient. These include the experiences of those located outside formal psychiatric spaces and relationships, from families and non-medical staff, to activists and campaigners, as well as narratives taking unconventional forms or found in unexpected places, offering alternative readings of sites, spaces, or texts, or challenging the very ways in which psychiatric narratives could or should be expressed and used.

This conference seeks to contribute to the development of these alternative narratives of psychiatry (in the broadest sense of the term) by exploring the voices and experiences of those involved in the non-institutional, non-formal aspects of psychiatry, and by investigating new ways to access all aspects of psychiatric experience, from the early modern period to today.

Proposals for 20 minute papers touching on any aspects of alternative psychiatric narratives are welcomed from postgraduate and early career researchers across the humanities and social sciences. Possible topics might include (but are not limited to):

– Alternative methodologies (such as oral history, social geography, ethnography, and more)
– Histories of familial and community care
– Representations of psychiatry in literature, theatre, art, music and the media
– Disability theories and histories in relation to the history of psychiatry and mental health
– Reforms, campaigns, and histories of activism and the psychiatric survivor movement
– Alternative views of traditional psychiatric sites such as asylums, hospitals, clinics
– Developments, experiences and perceptions of auxiliary and support staff
– Questions of space, time, culture and locality
– The gendering of psychiatric spaces, diagnoses and treatments
– Changing therapeutic identities over time
– Race and ethnicity, and other hidden dimensions of psychiatric history
– The classic sick role: its history, consequences and alternatives
– Medical texts and their role in shaping psychiatric stories
– The problems with psychiatric narratives: authenticity and authority, uses and abuses

Those interested in presenting a paper should email a short proposal (max. 300 words) to by Monday 3rd March 2014.

Further details and information regarding registration will be at

Friday 16 and Saturday 17 May 2014, Birkbeck College, University of London
Chair: Professor Joanna Bourke, Birkbeck
Hazel Croft, Stephanie Eastoe, Susanna Shapland, Janet Weston Co-convenors


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