Public Lecture: ‘Narrative Psychiatry and the Little Red Alpha’, Edinburgh

The Medical Humanities Research Network Scotland is delighted to announce its second public lecture, ‘Narrative Psychiatry and the Little Red Alfa’, given by Dr Philip Thomas.

Date and Time:  11 March 2013.  Doors open at 6.30pm for a 7pm start.

Location:  Teviot Lecture Theatre, Medical School, Teviot Place, Edinburgh.  See:



Narrative Psychiatry and the Little Red Alfa

Psychiatry is having to face up to a big problem. Much of the evidence for the effectiveness of drug treatments indicates that most psychiatric drugs are barely more effective than placebos (dummy tablets). In addition, there are serious doubts about the effectiveness and the safety of the drugs used to treat the most severe form of mental disorders – schizophrenia. In psychotherapy outcome research it has been recognised for at least seventy years that it’s not the specific ingredients of different psychotherapies that are effective, but the qualities of the therapist and the therapeutic relationship. This raises a difficult question: on what grounds  should an ethical, caring and effective form of psychiatric practice rest?

In this talk I will briefly outline this problem, before describing the main features of what I and others call  narrative psychiatry as a way forward. Narrative psychiatry engages with the diverse contexts and meanings that matter to people who use mental health services. It is also capable of accommodating many divergent models, or ways of understanding madness and distress, including the biomedical model. In particular it foregrounds the ethical and moral aspects of mental health practice, and thus fully recognises both the importance and complexity of self-defined recovery. Most interesting, however, is the way that narrative psychiatry reveals the value of the humanities in psychiatry. This, as well as the other elements of narrative psychiatry, will be illustrated through a short story based in my clinical experience.


Philip Thomas:

Philip Thomas graduated in medicine from Manchester University in 1972, and trained as a psychiatrist in Edinburgh. He worked as a full-time consultant psychiatrist in the NHS for over twenty years, in Manchester, North Wales and Bradford. He has worked closely with survivors of psychiatry, service users and community groups, nationally and internationally. Until recently he was chair of Sharing Voices Bradford, a community development project working with Black and Minority Ethnic communities. In his first consultant post in Manchester he worked closely with the African-Caribbean community in the city, and was part of a team that set up the Manchester African-Caribbean Mental Health Project.

He has published over 100 scholarly papers mostly in peer reviewed journals, and authored or co-authored three books, most recently Postpsychiatry, with Pat Bracken, published by Oxford University Press in 2005. His early academic work concerned the problems of classification and diagnosis in psychiatry, and this resulted ultimately in his doctoral thesis (The Linguistic Analysis of Psychotic Speech). Since then, his interests in language and communication have taken a narrative and philosophical turn, and  his current academic work places his interests at the intersection of biomedicine and the humanities.

He left clinical practice in 2004 to devote his time to writing. His main areas of interest are the moral and ethical basis of psychiatric theories and practice, which he now explores in his scholarly and creative writing (creative non-fiction). He is currently working on two books, one on critical and narrative psychiatry, and a collection of semi-fictional short stories based in clinical practice, under the title Madness, Meaning and Culture. Until recently he was professor of philosophy, diversity and mental health in the University of Central Lancashire, and is now an honorary visiting professor in the Department of Social Sciences and Humanities in the University of Bradford.

With best wishes,

The Medical Humanities Research Network Scotland

CFP: Imperfect Children

Centre for Medical Humanities, University of Leicester, 5th – 7th September 2013

The core focus of this conference will be the concept of ‘imperfection’ as it relates particularly to children. The word itself is contentious whether applied in a contemporary or historical sense. It assumes normative standards of behaviour, physical appearance, mental capacity or way of living, at the same time as it means very different things in particular ethnic, geographical or historical contexts. Applied to children who are constantly developing their intellectual and physical capacities, physical appearance and other attributes, it is particularly contentious. During the conference we wish to explore the concept and language of imperfection. This process might include discussion of mental or physical impairment; the ‘look’ of children; cosmetic surgery; biological or eugenic definitions of imperfection; community, familial and societal reactions to imperfection; childhood imperfection in literature and art; or the construction of feral youth in contemporary and historical populations. We also, however, want to look explicitly at some of the ‘imperfections’ themselves. These might include, but are not limited to:

a.. Mental or physical impairment
b.. Physical appearance, and the desire to ‘improve’ children
c.. Learning development
d.. ‘Bad’ character and criminality
e.. The manufacturing of child identity in different cultures and historical contexts
f.. Children and the capacity to work or play
g.. Diagnosing and correcting imperfection

It is anticipated that some of the papers will have an historical focus or will link historical data/perception with twenty-first century concerns. In this context we regard ‘history’ as anything beyond the last decade! Our definition of children runs from conception (and the desire to create the perfect child) through to age sixteen. We hope that the conference will attract interest across the spectrum from History, Archaeology, Art History and English through the social sciences and to biological and engineering or physical sciences.

Suggestions for papers/themed sessions or queries should be addressed to or to Steven Taylor / Steven King at the Centre for Medical Humanities, University of Leicester by February 2013. We expect to publish the papers.

Special Issue of the Review of Disability Studies: Disability and Popular Culture

Call for Abstracts for a Special Issue of the Review of Disability Studies: Disability and Popular Culture

This special issue addresses the critical importance of the intersection of popular culture and the construction of disability. Where access to and representation within public spaces largely shapes power, “popular culture” will be considered one of the most important public spaces in which concepts of disability are negotiated. The guest authors seek proposals that represent global perspectives on how pop culture is a critical location in which dominant cultural scripts about the body are re-enforced, contested, and perhaps re-imagined. The issue will consider accounts across of a wide variety of popular media, especially film, television and online culture.

Questions addressed will include:

  • How has the representation of people with disabilities in television, movies and emerging popular digital forms changed over time?
  • How is disability represented in gaming culture and within other virtual spaces, for example, Second Life? How might participation with such digital imagery dialog with lived experiences?
  • How are historical representations of people with disabilities, e.g., Freak shows, being reimagined and/or revisited in popular culture? How might this be placed in dialog with efforts towards social justice

Calls for papers will solicit writing that addresses intersections between disability and popular culture, including (but not limited to) considerations of:

  • Representation of the sexuality of people with disabilities in popular media
  • Telethons
  • Glee and other representations on popular television
  • Representations of disability in other national contexts, including Bollywood
  • Dominant media coverage of disability rights activism or protest
  • Comedy and disability
  • Superheroes and disability
  • Representations of villains with disabilities
  • Representations of disability in comics and graphic novels

Other topics that address intersections between disability and popular culture, particularly from a transnational perspective

Send 250-word abstracts by February 5, 2013 via email to Guest Editors Raphael Raphael and Holly Manaseri (Center on Disability Studies University of Hawaii). Please be sure to send abstracts to both editors. For the accepted abstracts, we will request selected authors submit completed articles June 10, 2013 of approximately 3000-5000 words.

Note that an invitation to submit an article based on an abstract does not guarantee publication of that article in The Review of Disability Studies. The RDS Managing Editor reserves the right to deny publication of any article. For more information about The Review of Disability Studies, and formatting guidelines please visit

Avoidance and the Academy: International Conference on Disability, Culture and Education

11th-12th September 2013.

Centre for Culture and Disability Studies

Liverpool Hope University, United Kingdom

It has been nearly two decades since Lennard Davis, in Enforcing Normalcy (1995), remarked that when he talked about culturally engaged topics like the novel or the body he could count on a full house of spectators, but if he included the term disability in the title of his session the numbers would drop radically (xi). Things have certainly improved since then, as is demonstrable in Sharon Snyder, Brenda Brueggemann, and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson’s key work on how the humanities can be enabled by disability studies (2002). Progress, however, is frequently obstructed by bigoted and dated notions about disability.  Accordingly, Stuart Murray’s “From Virginia’s Sister to Friday’s Silence” (2012) recognises the persistence of disability in contemporary writing, but David Bolt’s chapter in the Routledge Handbook of Disability Studies (2012) argues that the academy is still dragged down by critical avoidance.

The time has come to recognise that the academic avoidance of disability studies and disability theory is indicative of social prejudice. In the academy we are becoming increasingly appreciative of access requirements, which is all well and good, but recognising the foundational achievements, ideas, knowledge, influence, experience, and/or authority of disabled people can prove profoundly difficult for some non-disabled people, as though a fundamental order would be disrupted. This reluctance becomes manifest when disability studies and disability theory are dismissed as irrelevant.

Bringing together work in the humanities, education, and the social sciences more generally, the purpose of this project is to aid curricular reform by exploring and demonstrating ways in which we can and do make explicit the interdisciplinary significance of disability studies and disability theory. In the spirit of Snyder, Brueggemann, and Garland-Thomson’s work of a decade ago, we want to enable not just the humanities but the academy more broadly, to reveal and address avoidance at all levels. For example, the Special Educational Needs discourse thrives as a central focus in Initial Teacher Education and as an area for specific attention from Ofsted, but critical pedagogical approaches are not engaged with disability. The problematic pathologies evident in the discourse and the subsequent erasure of the individual constitute an act of avoidance.

The project will take the form of a conference, scheduled for September 2013, and a book edited by David Bolt and Claire Penketh in which Routledge has expressed an interest.  If you would like to contribute by presenting your take on the theme at the conference and thus being considered for the proposed book, please send a 200 word proposal to David Bolt ( and Claire Penketh (  The deadline is 1 April, 2013.

Dr. David Bolt

Director, Centre for Culture & Disability Studies,