Conference abstract

We are entering a new and unprecedented moment in the globalization of psychiatric expertise and practice. Across hemispheres, nations, and domains of social life, the language of psychiatry and mental health constitutes an increasingly universal frame for suffering while also expressing a human condition ever more liberated and ever more alienated by medical knowledge. Psy-expertise itself has become riven by internal fractures over professional identity, pharmaceuticalization, and geopolitical positionality. At the same time, it has been adopted by a growing array of actors in education, the military, business, global health, non-governmental organization, user movements, and civil society with differing claims about how mental illness is to be defined and addressed. The many crises occasioned or signaled by the election of Donald Trump—in domains ranging from healthcare, borders and immigration, police violence, nuclear conflict, and control and funding of scientific research, to white nationalism, post-industrial anxiety, hate crime, and liberal apocalypticism—remind us that the social and political life of the psyche has an important place in our present-day circumstances.

This workshop investigates this complex, multivalent moment and calls for new analytical frames that go beyond the battle between medicalization and its discontents, experts and patients, and the imperial reach of disciplines and the insurgencies beating them back. Participants’ papers chart the rise and transformation of today’s global psyche — the object of hegemonic psy-expertise, the space within which it is debated and re-appropriated, its transformation into cultural idioms with growing appeal across the globe. Drawing on research conducted in a number of countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Kosovo, Mexico, Russia, Senegal, and the United States, panels explore how the global psyche takes shape at the intersection of technology, politics, and ethics, a location where experts and ordinary people alike wrestle with the fundamental questions of “how to live” and what kinds of worlds we want to build and live on within. The conference will show how the global psyche has become a key site of moral and political reckoning and ethical speculation and reconfiguration, birthing novel experiments in justice, rights, personhood, and the good life. For more information on cross-cutting questions and themes for the conference, see below.

Unsettling the bio and influencing epistemic relations
Claims that psychiatry and neuroscience are moving ever closer to a reductive “molecularization” of the psyche are colliding with non- or anti-reductionist forms of knowledge such as critical neuroscience and post-genomics that some scholars argue could finally collapse the nature/nurture and mind/body divides. What social and political forces constrain scientific communities from recognizing how the culture of psychiatry fundamentally shapes both knowledge-production and psychiatry’s objects of attention?(5)  How, why and with what effects has the brain become such a “restless” epistemic and ontological object – both of inquiry and everyday life? How might closer engagement with this restless object encourage new understandings of the relationship between the biological and socio-cultural? Rather than simply rejecting or embracing universality, what can we learn from critical examination of the extent, level, relational and etiological conditions, and purposes of universalizing claims within the global psyche?
Changing Psyches and Changing Subjects
From border crossings to disaster zones to the increasingly psychologized domains of aging, addiction and labor productivity, psychic distress has become a way of validating suffering, constituting sympathetic subjects, and generating new assemblages for state, inter-state, and global governance. How do new forms of governing the psyche confront clinicians, ill people, and entire populations with new ways of labelling, interpreting and living their experiences? How do ever-widening surveillance and screening tools centered on risk and prevention shape new subjectivities saturated in both fear and hope? How do globalized discourses of health and illness influence notions of personhood and citizenship and intersect with other practices of governance and regulation? What do these labels and categories look and feel like at the level of daily life and intimate experience?
Interrogating the politics of localisms, culture and the global
Questions of “culture,” “context,” and “global impositions” have become core idioms through which experts and everyday people debate the significance and terms of mental life and psychiatric expertise. How are the various discourses and institutional practices producing the global psyche in a constant state of glocal convergence, contradiction and friction? In what ways are positions in favor of cultural sensitivity and attention to “localisms” becoming discursive tools for difficult-to-articulate concerns relating to the geopolitical challenges within which global psychiatry is embroiled? How do the emerging politics of “Global South” actors and movements currently cropping up in both “developed” and “developing” complicate local-global binaries?
Violence, Preemption, and In/security
A major strain of the diffusion of the psy- disciplines is as a tool of security, deployed to interpret threats, regulate threatened populations, and management the production and aftermath of state violence. What are the consequences of the increasing centrality of the psyche in understandings of the human toll of war, violence, displacement, and migration? How is the global psyche conjured and regulated at border crossings, after natural disasters or civil conflicts, among military veterans, or in everyday public anxieties, and what economies of suspicion and validated suffering does it traffic in? What racialized, classed, gendered, and sexualized forms of disorder and resistance are brought into focus by psy- framings? What critical perspectives are displaced and what new forms of experience are birthed in these regimes of “therapeutic governance”?(6)
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