Global mental health and therapeutic assemblages: concepts, controversy and necessary tensions

Mental Health Conference

A two-day Conference (funded by the British Academy and organised through Sheffield Institute for International Development and the School of Education Centre for Critical Psychology and Education)

12 - 13th February 2018

University of Sheffield, UK

Register to attend: Eventbrite


Call for abstracts and participation

Global mental health as a field of study and practice involves a wide heterogeneous assemblage of actors and is a controversial field that despite huge achievements has also attracted much critique. While for some the very concept of global mental health is an oxymoron and a form of medical imperialism (Summerfield, 2013), for others it has proved a practical way of leveraging political attention on a much-neglected area. This makes for a sometimes hostile and polemic intellectual climate that risks reaching an impasse (Cooper, 2016). This conference aims to draw out the necessary tensions of this field through critical interdisciplinary discussion and debate. It aims to create space to explore how activists, mental health users and survivors, and academics from various fields (such as, Mad Studies, Postcolonial Theory, Disability Studies, Human Geography, History, Literary studies, Education, and Science and Technology Studies, and many more) can enrich and / or trouble debates around global mental health.

The conference is open to all working in and around global mental health and wider therapeutic assemblages, and especially welcomes postgraduate and early career researchers, those who have lived experience of a psychiatric diagnosis, or of distress, and those who live and/or work in the global South on mental health issues. It aims to explore and showcase the multiple contemporary (converging and diverging) directions of, and innovations in, global mental health research and practice.

Mental health is currently in a process of transformation from being described as an ‘invisible problem’ in international development to being framed as one of the most pressing development issues of our time, included on the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals, and framed as lying at the heart of global health (Patel, 2014). With increased attention on mental health globally, this marks an important historic moment to influence the way that mental health is taken up, understood and implemented within development and global health agendas. Therefore, we invite abstract submissions that are interdisciplinary and that include rich conceptual work and/or discussion of ‘on the ground’ practice. We welcome papers that try to grapple with the complexity and the messiness of debates around global mental health and related areas. We encourage papers that explore a range of issues and address some difficult questions, including (but not exclusively):

  • What does ‘global’ mental health look like from the heterogeneous perspectives, activism, scholarship and (onto-) epistemologies of (psychosocially) disabled and mad people?
  • Can the history of the psy-complex and its intersections with racism, white supremacy and colonialism inform our understanding of newer developments in global mental health?
  • What makes global mental health ‘global’?
  • What differing or competing epistemologies and agendas operate within global mental health and global therapeutic assemblages?
  • How does global mental health intersect with security, border imperialism, humanitarianism, therapeutic governance and the therapisation of human rights discourse?
  • How does the medical framing of distress as ‘disorder’ and as a non-communicable disease operate alongside economistic framings of mental disorder as burden, and how do these and alternative frames impact on the governance of mental health?
  • How might anthropologies of psycho-pharmaceuticals, and discussion of the global production, distribution and marketing of drugs, impact on global mental health?
  • Whose knowledge counts in the global mental health agenda? Considerations regarding hierarchies of scientific knowledge and asymmetrical relationships between Western psy-disciplines and traditional/local/Indigenous healing practices.
  • How do depictions of mental health/distress in global media, art, music, film, television, advertising, literature, etc contribute to how mental health is understood and how mental distress is treated globally?
  • How is mental health quantified and technologized, and does the ‘newer’ digitisation of mental health have a longer history?
  • How are intersecting forms of discrimination (ableism, disablism, sanism, racism) addressed in global mental health?
  • What kinds of methodological innovations and novel ways of researching global or local mental health (for example, insights from the ‘global’ to the particular) are currently being used?

All talks, including those from established scholars, will be 20 minutes each, giving plenty of time for questions, shared discussion, and critical engagement attentive to re/shaping a future research agenda for global mental health. The conference will include two plenaries, and a session on the mental health research funding and publishing landscapes.

There is no cost for attendance, and lunch and refreshments will be provided free. There is a small amount of money available to cover some travel and related costs for those who need it. Please be considerate that only a small amount is available. If you are coming from a global South country, we may be able to help with your expenses. Please indicate whether you would like to be considered for financial support in your abstract submission email.

Please submit abstract or queries to globalmentalhealthassemblages@gmail.com by December 11th 2017. Decisions on abstracts and funding will be made by December 18th.

This event is being organised by staff and students at the University of Sheffield and University of Melbourne: Jana Fey, Eva Hilberg, Lindsay Miller, Elise Klein, and China Mills.