Mad Studies

[This content was originally posted by The Icarus Project,]

Welcome to our page for researchers and folks interested in Mad Studies! Here you can learn more about social theories and research on madness contextualized within ecological and cultural frameworks and find articles written by social researchers collaborating with The Icarus Project, as well as read/contribute to our policies on working with these scholars.

Mad Studies takes an inclusive, interdisciplinary approach to contextualizing and historicizing madness. Drawing from history of science/medicine, feminist science and technology studies, critical psychiatry/psychology, post-psychiatry, queer theory, disabilities studies, medical humanities, digital humanities, cultural studies, and many other bodies of scholarship, Mad Studies seeks contextualize what has been deemed “mental illness” within Western intellectual and political climates. In Mad Travelers(1998), Ian Hacking points out the ways that mental illness manifests within particular environments. He writes,

I argue that one fruitful idea for understanding transient mental illness is the ecological niche, not just social, not just medical, not just coming from the patient, not just from the doctors, but from the concatenation of an extraordinarily large number of diverse types of elements which for a moment provide a stable home for certain types of manifestations of illness.[1]

To that end, Mad Studies takes particular interest in the ecological niches where madness is defined as such and where stressors within the environmental contribute to mental distress. Some dimensions of this emerging field may include research on the social construction of mental illness, normalizing imperatives of the state and medicine, rapidly shifting nosologies (categories of pathology) for mental illness, collusion(s) of pharmaceutical corporations and professional associations within psychiatry, connections between ecocide and environ/mental stress, representation(s) of madness in media, origin narratives of consumer/survivor/ex-patient movement(s), and the rise and fall of popular mental diagnoses (and treatments) within scientific, medical, and lay communities.

Most importantly, we are mad scholars—mad and deeply concerned about the current state of psychiatry, lack of access to resources that could greatly improve mental health (shelter, food, supportive workplaces, strong communities, etc.), and prevailing conceptions of madness that blame individuals for their “illnesses”, rather than society as a whole for our inability to accept diverse ways of being in the world. Mad Studies scholars identify with who have suffered the stigmatization of mental illness, recognize the very material effects of their suffering, envision how mental health care can be conceptualized and practiced in a way that is respectful of those who seek help, and acknowledge fraught aspects of imposing normalizing, biomedical epistemologies on those perhaps most attune to the pathology of this mad, mad world.


[1] Ian Hacking, Mad Travelers: Reflections on the Reality of Transient Mental Illness, (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 1998), p. 13.


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