Psychiatric survivors and narratives of activism

Prof Doc Thesis

Buhagiar, Jonathan Paul Marek 2013. Psychiatric survivors and narratives of activism. Prof Doc Thesis University of East London School of Psychology
AuthorsBuhagiar, Jonathan Paul Marek
TypeProf Doc Thesis

Despite there being a substantial history of survivors challenging psychiatry,
there has been little attention paid to the lives of these individuals. The literature
has primarily focussed upon ‘recovery’ and the development of typologies of
emotional distress. Whilst the focus upon people’s individual experience is to be
welcomed, the literature has tended to background the causes to which survivors
have committed part of their lives. The aim of this study was to explore the
‘journeys’ of survivors into activism to challenge psychiatry. The project drew
upon a social constructionist epistemology and narrative theory. Nine interviews
were conducted with survivors with a history of involvement in activism. A
dialogic/performative analysis was used to explore issues of identity construction
amongst the participants.
The analysis is presented as ‘case studies’ in order to try to capture the
complexity of each person’s narrative. The discussion section then brings each of
these narratives together. It is argued that the participants’ narratives shared
common characteristics and reflected the narratives of the collective of which
participants were a part, the wider survivor movement as well as dominant
societal narratives. However, the way in which participants drew upon these
narratives differed both within and across the accounts. Variations were apparent
regarding the ways in which participants’ narratives contested psychiatry. A
personal and moral construction of activism featured heavily, with participants
positioning themselves as both individuals with experience of the psychiatric
system and as citizens.
This project highlights the need for understandings which take into account the
complexity of people’s lives, and their wider collective and social context.
Recommendations include raising awareness about survivor groups/networks
without co-opting their practices. Furthermore, this study attests to the need to
take up issues of power and inequality, and their impact on people’s lives, in
research and clinical practice.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Publication dates
PrintDec 2013
Publication process dates
Deposited23 Jan 2014
Publisher's version
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