If you need any further encouragement to attend the Theorising Normalcy and the Mundane: 3rd International Conference at the University of Chester (June 26th-27th 2012), here are details of our second keynote speaker: China Mills, who will be discussing…
Spoof: Faking Normal, Faking Disorder
“[T]he most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed” (Steve Biko, 1978: 92).
How do spoof, ‘fake’ psycho-pharmaceutical adverts work to queer the ‘real’ adverts, and the disorders they market the drugs for? How do they crip conceptions of normality and sanity?
These spoof ads point to a creeping psychiatrization of our everyday lives, a psychiatrization globalised through ‘mental health literacy’ campaigns and psycho-education in low-income countries of the global South. This paper will explore how this psychiatrization interlaces with colonial subject formation. For while pharmaceutical adverts and psychiatry interpellate, hail, ‘make up’, and elicit particular subjects – as pharmaceutical citizens, neurochemical selves; there is also a force at work in ‘making up’ these subjects, through the power of the gaze, that for Frantz Fanon; objectifies, seals, crushes and abrades. But how does medication broker subjectivity? How does it, as the ads claim, restore us to ourselves, make us whole again?
This paper will attend to the visual, to mechanisms of looking, to psychiatric fields of visibility. In India, many mental health Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), go to rural areas to ‘identify’ people with ‘mental illness’, making them visible through diagnostic systems developed in the global North, and medicating them. They say these people are ‘invisible people’. So how do medication and psychiatry make people visible? What ways of ‘seeing’ do they make possible? For Homi Bhabha (1994) invisibility does not signify lack; instead it works to disrupt identification and interpellation through refusing presence. Thus how might these ‘invisible people’, those who refuse to ‘reproduce hegemonic appearances’ (Scott, 1990), work to disrupt the gaze of psychiatry? Might invisibility; the doubling, dissembling image of being in two places at once (Bhabha, 1994), work as both a ‘symptom’ of oppression, and a means of subversion?
To read psychiatrization as a colonial discourse opens up possibilities to explore how the secret arts, the hidden transcripts, of resistance of the colonised might be read in people’s resistance to psychiatry – from the slyness of mimicking normality, to the mockery of ‘spoof’ drug adverts. How the ‘disembodied eyes’ of the subaltern that see but are not seen, might disrupt and subvert both the presumed ‘I’ of the unitary ‘whole’ subject, and the surveillant, penetrative ‘eye’ of psychiatry.
How medication might work to make people visible is more troubling if we read invisibility as camouflage and potential subversion. It suggests that medication might make people more vulnerable in their submission to sociality, in their domestication. But with what conceptual tools can we establish whether being invisible is an act of resistance through camouflage, a strategy solely for survival, or a mark of adaptation and assimilation? Perhaps certain forms of psychiatric ‘looking’ allow us not to ‘see’; enable us to encounter difference and yet defer it, domesticate it– to recuperate the hegemonic, the status quo, in the final look.
In this paper I will explore how spoof adverts may mimic ‘real’ ads in a similar way to how some people mimic normality, slyly; a ‘resemblance and menace’ that mocks the power of the ‘real’ and the ‘sane’, their very power to be a model (Bhabha, 1994:86). Will you be able to tell the difference between the ‘real’ and the ‘fakes’?
China Mills is in the final stages of writing up her PhD thesis, which employs a colonial discourse analysis of Global mental Health’s ‘scale-up’ of psychiatry, and the psychiatrization of India. She is funded by the Education and Social Research Institute, at Manchester Metropolitan University, UK. China has worked within, and been allied to, the UK and Indian psychiatric user/survivor movement for some years, and is a member of the editorial collective of Asylum magazine for democratic psychiatry (www.asylumonline.net).
For more information on the conference click here.