Practising ignorance – exercising restraint

“…ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have”. James Baldwin (1972)

The online Cambridge Dictionary records that the word ‘ignorant’ signifies not having enough knowledge, understanding, or information about something – and the online Collins English Dictionary adds the nuance that when we describe someone as ignorant, we mean that they do not know things which they should know.

I think I may therefore confidently echo James Baldwin in suggesting that ‘ignorance, allied with power’ may be understood to be embodied in the priapic figure of our present Premier when, politicking around the Home Counties with Priti Patel recently (as is his chilling wont), he prescribed membership of “fluorescent-jacketed chain gangs visibly paying your debt to society” (Guardian 2021) for those convicted of ‘anti-social behaviour’ (no trace of irony there!).

In case this spot of racist dog-whistling was too shrill for human ears to detect, he also lit the gas on half a century of fraught community policing when, with his very next breath, he proclaimed that ‘stop and search’, that key instrument of racially-targeted State oppression in modern Britain, was “a kind and a loving thing to do”.

It’s always problematic engaging on any level with the proliferating populist poseurs that (over-)populate the public sphere in post-modernity. Best in some ways to let it all wash over us, pour ne pas encourager les autres. But I want to try to think and write in a clear-eyed way about ‘race’ and racism and I think that these prime ministerial pronouncements illuminate the mindset of a whole class. As it happens to be the ruling caste in this country, it’s worth paying attention. And because it is about ‘race’, silence from the likes of me very quickly tips over into collusion or endorsement.

In that press conference, chattel slavery in the American South of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries – as particularly extended through to the present day by the American penal system (in which more African Americans are incarcerated, than there were slaves in the United States in 1850 (Resler, 2019)) – is an historical phenomenon that is being referenced, but its true nature, its continuation by other means, and the identity and mindset of its perpetrators is being actively ignored.

Our protagonist, therefore, is being ignorant in the most violent possible way. He is indeed a candidate, as Baldwin warned, to be “the most ferocious enemy justice can have”. Furthermore, as Baldwin had previously observed, “whatever white people do not know about Negroes reveals, precisely and inexorably, what they do not know about themselves” (Baldwin [1963] 2017, pp. 43-44).

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Because this particular paragon of our ruling ‘elite’ is such an admirer of Winston Churchill – that Colossus of Empire (in its (British) late period) and committed ideological adherent and proponent of racist imperialism, who in 1902 insisted that the “Aryan stock is bound to triumph” and in 1955 proposed “Keep England White” as the Conservative Party’s electoral slogan (and so who undoubtedly would have nodded his head at that ‘chain gang’ dog whistle) – it is with the figure of Churchill that we may as well begin.

In Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy (1998), reference is made (pp. 641-642) to an episode when Churchill was Home Secretary, in which he and his Parliamentary Private Secretary Edward Marsh “spent an entire afternoon beating each other’s buttocks with a plaited birch”. There had been debate whether official adoption of this newly designed implement amounted to cruelty and so Churchill and Marsh had ‘done their duty’ by testing its efficacy. They are supposed, in Barker’s retelling of the tale, to have drawn the conclusion that “they’d had worse beatings at school” (Churchill’s experiences of being caned at Harrow are well-documented; the incident with Marsh is mentioned in Hassall (1959); Churchill’s Parliamentary Private Secretary during World War Two, Brendan Bracken, set up his own secret summer school in the 1950s so that he could contrive to have himself regularly caned, in role as a 16 year old schoolboy who suffered from premature ageing).

Now, it is not my purpose here to practice ‘wild psycho-analysis’ at a distance, or to pry into private lives, even if some such details have come into the public domain; nor to be prurient or judgmental about sexual or sexualised practices in what were sexually repressive times. We might at most very gently and cautiously infer, at the human and individual level, that these are the survival strategies of tormented souls. Moreover, I too am a survivor of single-sex boarding schools: to declare an interest, and not to put myself above the fray. I too must atone for my own guilt by association with the racist ravages of Empire.

No: the context and rationale for having anything at all to say about the personal lives of such historical figures lies in their power and privilege in the public sphere and the relations of domination which they considered themselves entitled to pursue. What I want very simply to notice for now are two particular phenomena: the first of which is the pervasive quality and characteristic of cruelty – elevated almost to the status of a virtue, as in ‘it’s cruel to be kind’; ‘it will make a man of you’; and other more or less insidious bromides and banalities of that ilk.

(‘I went through it, and it didn’t do me any harm’ is another one of these sayings, and it reminds me that at the boarding school in which I was deposited, I was a member of the first intake after the practice of being required to act as personal servant to the older pupils had been abolished. This was certainly a matter of personal relief to me; and it also meant that I bore witness to the disappointment of those who arrived in the four years before me, who had the practice passed on down to them, but couldn’t ‘make it alright’ by passing it further on down the line (and therefore had to find other less structured ways and means to assert dominance).)

The second phenomenon I want to foreground is the practice and exercise of restraint.

I have in mind to make full use of the double meaning of this word. It was essential in these disciplinary institutions that one took one’s beating (from housemasters or from older ‘fellow’-pupils) with a ‘stiff upper lip’: one did not ‘blub’; cruelty was something to be bitten back and doubled down on. This is not self-restraint in the sense of that conventional social virtue associated with the Aristotelian ‘Golden Mean’. This is systematic ‘control and restraint’, deployed ruthlessly against the creative spontaneity of the self, in order to suppress any upsurge of human emotion and cut it off at the source.

The Duke of Wellington famously claimed, on behalf of his officer classes, that the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton. His rank and file (those who survived) might have begged to differ. But we could perhaps argue that the great prizes of Victorian Empire – the power and reach of British dominion between the moment of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte’s coup d’état in Paris in December 1851 and Gavrilo Princip’s two well-aimed pistol shots in Sarajevo in June 1914 – were won behind closed doors, in places and spaces dedicated to ritual humiliation. Generation upon cold, repressed, brutalized generation were sent away by their parents to be restrained in disciplinary institutions where they learned to exercise (self-)restraint when cruelties were administered to self or other; thus were they ‘trained for Empire’ and then sent out from these schools, and these shores, to rule over their fellow human beings, for whom they had no fellow feeling (were perhaps not capable of entertaining such fellow feeling).

The ideology of Free Trade presented them with an overriding mission to profiteer and to plunder; the ideology of racism allowed them to consider that their subjects were not human beings at all; and the ideology of Christianity (as opposed to the teachings of Jesus) provided the figleaf of the ‘civilising’ project, to still any lingering qualms.

This was the Rule of Britannia.

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Toni Morrison wrote about chain gangs and restraint in Beloved (1997): her furious, anguished, transcendental account of the trauma and the ghosts of slavery. A ‘chain gang’ (so ignorantly referenced in that prime ministerial photo opportunity), in the world of Beloved (pp. 125-130), means forty-six Black men caged in boxes like kennels or coffins (except that both dogs and the dead are housed in greater decency and comfort); the boxes lined up in a ditch dug five feet deep, five feet wide. Woken each morning to gunshots; uncaged and forced to pass a thousand foot of chain onward to each other through their ankle irons; forced to submit to sexual abuse from the guards before being marched to their long day’s sledgehammer toil in the quarry; sleeping, if sleep be found, in mud and floodwater, waiting for the bite of the cottonmouth.

This compass of cruelty beyond measure or comprehension is not literally what is being proposed today as Conservative policy; but it is what is being referenced. In case you doubt me, one notorious and flatly despicable scribe writing in The Sun (I won’t give him the recognition of an actual reference) in the immediate aftermath of that dog whistle suggested that these new ‘chain gangs’ in their new yellow jackets should be made to sing ‘Negro spirituals’: so that passers-by would be sure they were ‘wrong ‘uns’, as they scrubbed graffiti off of walls or picked up litter off of grass verges.

To be very explicit: this extreme of cruelty and intensity of white supremacist ideology is being referenced because our ruling ‘elite’ have a notion that there are enough nodding Churchills among us who find the references congruent with their innermost feelings. They calculate that it is worth being referenced. They’re not just chatting around the dinner table as the port is passed (in such conversations, subliminal referencing and sly dog whistling aren’t felt to be needed and more open language is used). They’re speaking to us this way because experience tells them that there’s votes and funding in it for them.

Have these pontificators and provocateurs read Beloved? The question is irrelevant. They are ignorant, because they elect not to integrate the knowledge, the awareness, and the shame that is present and inherent in the history.

If any of them have read that book, they will also have encountered what Morrison writes about the ‘bit’ or ‘iron-bit’ or ‘face iron’. In her story, the character Paul D., who has escaped that Georgia chain gang described above, is reluctantly disclosing to Sethe, his host (whom he knew from ‘Sweet Home’, an earlier and relatively less troubled period of captivity) some of what he has endured. Sethe asks him why he didn’t say anything at a particular juncture in the story and Paul D. tells her that he had the ‘bit’ on him – and therefore he was physically unable to speak:

“he wants me to ask him about what it was like for him, about how offended the tongue is, held down by iron, how the need to spit is so deep you cry for it.  She already knew about it, had seen it time after time in the place before Sweet Home. Men, boys, little girls, women. The wildness that shot up into the eye the moment the lips were yanked back.” (1997, p. 84)

This practice is also briefly depicted in episode three of the recent television adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad (2017). However, Irina Popescu (2017) explains that contemporary research into slavery, restraint and torture has uncovered very little information on the iron bit. She hypothesizes that “this suggests that its physical representation and implementation remains locked away in the realm of the unimaginable”. She continues:

“Some human bits covered the entire mouth, neck, and nose, leaving the eyes unfettered so the slave could continue to see and thus proceed with his or her work. In this sense, the bit initially prevented speech by covering the mouth. After the bit was removed, the mouth was so dehydrated that the victims found themselves too hoarse to form words. (ibid.)”

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James Baldwin once wrote: “For the horrors of the American Negro’s life there has been almost no language” ([1963] 2017, p. 62); and I must at once concede that at this point I don’t know what to write. I don’t know whether I can, or should, write anything at all. It may well be that my complicity disqualifies me, white middle-class male of a certain age that I am. I do know for certain that I can add nothing to what Toni Morrison has written. Here is unspeakability; unthinkability; unimaginability.

And yet: I perceive that it demands to be known. No – let me not hide behind the passive voice. Let me say rather that ‘it’ (the unspeakability, the unthinkability, the unimaginability of restraining human beings in chattel slavery) demands of me that I know it: that I not practice ignorance in the face of it; that I not stifle or suppress it, nor leave it lying in the shadows of consciousness, a ‘subjugated knowledge’ (Foucault 1976). I also think this is what Paul Gilroy is getting at when he writes of ‘imaginative proximity to terror’ (although that would be Baldwin’s or Morrison’s, not mine to claim) and says that “though they were unspeakable, these terrors were not inexpressible” (Gilroy 1993, p. 73).

Restraint. Control. Mild, measured, moderate-sounding words. A clinical tone, when coupled together – ‘control and restraint’ – the ‘and’ forging a collocation, a connection, like a link of chain. Makes eminent, self-evident sense, on the face of it, no?

But now let’s review some more recent history. Here are the deaths of six Black men; five of these deaths taking place in the UK, the sixth in the USA. There isn’t space here to do justice either to their lives or to the manner of their deaths; however, what links them, apart from the social constructs of ‘race’ and gender, is the fact that all six of them died of asphyxiation and/or cardiac arrest as a result of being restrained by agents of State. Three of these men at least – the first and the last two – found breath, during the restraint, sufficient to be able to say, to those agents of State, “I can’t breathe”.

David Bennett died during a nursing restraint on 30 October 1998 at the Norvic Clinic, a Medium Secure Unit in Norwich in which he had been for many years, off and on, a patient. Bennett wrote a letter to the Head of Nursing Services in 1993, on a previous admission, observing that “there are over half a dozen black boys in this clinic. I don’t know if you have realized that there are no Africans on your staff at the moment. We feel there should be at least two black persons in the medical or social work staff. For the obvious reasons of security and contentment for all concerned please do your best to remedy this appalling situation” (Independent Inquiry 2003, p. 9). On the evening of his fatal restraint following a violent disturbance on the ward, Bennett was heard saying to the nursing team “Get off me, get off me, I can’t breathe. Get off my throat” (Independent Inquiry 2003, p. 21).

In January 1999, Roger Sylvester died under police restraint in Haringay, London. The report of the inquest (Guardian 2003) relates that Sylvester:

“stopped breathing at the emergency psychiatric unit at St Anne’s hospital, Haringey, when six police officers held him down on the floor for about 20 minutes, St Pancras coroner’s court heard. He fell into a coma and died later at the Whittington hospital, north London. The court had heard that dangerous and unreasonable force was used and Mr Sylvester was handcuffed and sometimes restrained on his stomach.”

On 21 August 2008, Sean Rigg died of cardiac arrest and partial positional asphyxia under police restraint in Brixton, London. The Wikipedia summary of the circumstances of his death record that Rigg was chased by four police officers and

“was handcuffed and restrained in a prone, face down position as officers leant on him for eight minutes. Arrested for assaulting a police officer, public disorder and theft of a passport—which was actually his own—he was then placed face-down with his legs bent behind him in the caged rear section of a police van and transported to Brixton police station. During the journey “his mental and physical health deteriorated” and he was “extremely unwell and not fully conscious” when eventually taken out of the van. This followed a delay of ten minutes during which he was left handcuffed in a ‘rear stack’ position, unattended and unmonitored while the van sat outside the station in the car parking area.”

On 4 November 2013, Leon Briggs died under police restraint in Luton. According to a news report of the inquest (BBC 2021b):

The way police officers moved a restrained man who later died was “potentially dangerous” and against “strict guidance”, an inquest heard. Leon Briggs, 39, was restrained under the Mental Health Act on a street in Luton, handcuffed and placed in leg restraints on 4 November 2013. He was lifted face-down to a van and taken to Luton police station. He later became unconscious and died. An officer told the inquest carrying Mr Briggs face-down was “not ideal”.

The jury found that “there was a gross failure to provide Leon with basic medical attention and that there was a direct causal connection between this conduct and his death. They recorded a conclusion that his death was ‘contributed to by neglect’.”

We should pause here in the sequence to note that, in January 2017, the Angiolini Review report (commissioned by Theresa May) found that:

“57.  There is evidence of disproportionate deaths of BAME people in restraint related deaths. Any death involving a BAME victim who died following the use of force has the capacity to provoke community disquiet leading to a lack of public confidence and trust in the justice system. This can be exacerbated if people are not seen to be held to account, or if the misconduct process is opaque (Angiolini 2017, p. 15).”

Now we come to the fifth of these deaths: consider this BBC News report on the death of Kevin Clarke under police restraint in Lewisham, London in March 2018 (BBC 2021a):

“Mr Clarke had been lying on the ground and attempted to get to his knees before being restrained …. He was handcuffed and legs restraints were applied. Police body-worn video footage reveals Mr Clarke repeatedly told officers “I can’t breathe”, before being made to walk to an ambulance, still bound at the knees while barely conscious … .”

The final death in this sequence is perhaps the most well-known. On 25 May 2020, in Minneapolis, George Floyd was killed under police restraint. Here is the Wikipedia summary of witness accounts and video recordings taken at the scene:

“Floyd can be heard repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe”, “Please”, and “Mama”; Lane then asked for an ambulance for Floyd, “for one bleeding from the mouth”. Floyd repeated at least 16 times that he could not breathe. At one point a witness said: “You got him down. Let him breathe.” After Floyd said, “I’m about to die”, Chauvin told him to “relax”. An officer asked Floyd, “What do you want?”; Floyd answered, “Please, the knee in my neck, I can’t breathe.”

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James Baldwin (to which very great writer, we can never return too often) once wrote that “when a white man faces a black man, especially if the black man is helpless, terrible things are revealed” ([1963] 2017, p. 51). Derek Chauvin is now serving a 22.5 year sentence for second-degree murder. However, in the UK, it is a fact that:

“despite more than 1,700 deaths in police custody and following police contact since 1990 there has never been a successful prosecution of any police officer for murder or manslaughter (Coles 2021).”

192 of these deaths were of people racialized as BAME and this number (14%) reflects the overall population ratios in the UK as of 2011. However, BAME deaths in police custody involving restraint, use of force and mental health issues are in each category more than twice as likely compared to other deaths in custody. Coles, who is the Director of INQUEST, has also argued that “the disproportionality in the use of force against Black people adds to the irrefutable evidence of structural racism embedded in policing practices”.

A very recent United Nations Human Rights Commission report (United Nations 2021), commissioned in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, concludes:

“61. Behind today’s systemic racism, racial violence, dehumanization and exclusion, however, lies the lack of a formal acknowledgement of the responsibilities of States, institutions, religious groups, universities, business enterprises and individuals that engaged in or profited from, and that continue to profit from, the legacy of enslavement, the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans and colonialism”

and calls on States Parties to the UNCHR to take action thus:

“68. Listening to the voices of people of African descent, the need for a global transformative agenda for racial justice and equality is clear. The four-point agenda in the annex sets out the key changes that are needed, which have also been elaborated in the present report under the subheadings on the way forward. Comprehensively implemented, the agenda would:

 (a) Reverse the cultures of denial, dismantle systemic racism and accelerate the pace of action;

 (b) End impunity for human rights violations by law enforcement officials and close trust deficits;

 (c) Ensure that the voices of people of African descent and those who stand up against racism are heard and that their concerns are acted upon;

 (d) Confront legacies, including through accountability and redress.”

Furthermore, the UN Special Rapporteur (United Nations 2017) has commanded States Parties to the UNCRPD (United Nations 2006) to desist from all coercive practices in psychiatry and this would include ‘control and restraint’. The importance and urgency of the challenge to the status quo upheld by the racist State, and to the range of practices by which that status quo is maintained, cannot be overstated.

I am conscious of not having said anything new here as such and I hope this piece reaches a readership who may instantly recognize just how far behind the curve I have been – and, likely enough, still am. But I want to say that I’m taking notice and that taking notice is, I believe and trust, a creative antidote to practicing ignorance. Those great lambasters of restraint of trade and mealy-mouthed objectors to restraint of press freedoms that have been governing this country since the days of Empire are pursuing the active continuation of the practices of restraining entailed in slavery and the toxic ooze of it seeps out through every membrane of the body politic. And I wonder what happens to a ruling class, to use that term, when in order to keep power it has to (officially) renounce the practice that brought it such unimaginable riches and yet corrupted it so completely? What happens when institutional approval and statutory sanction for the handing down and passing on of misery and cruelty is withheld? Perhaps practices of cruelty on such a scale must somehow persevere and find outlets for expression, because such drives can never be sublimated.

Racist dog whistles are not ‘merely’ racist dog whistles. They tell us that nothing – nothing whatsoever – has changed in the mindset. And this brings us back to the beginning of this blog, and the need to take our leave of the present monarch’s present First Minister (and let’s take every opportunity to remind ourselves that it was the Royal Family in this country (albeit in those days not the Windsors themselves, but the Stuarts) that formalized the transatlantic slave trade in the second half of the seventeenth century (hence the mind-boggling wealth now at the Windsors’ disposal)).

What, then, are we to make of the figure of the man whose remark apparently in passing set us off on such a journey? Perhaps the figure of Churchill may provide further illumination, if not the kind of light that anyone would much want shone…

For if associations to Churchill’s cane inexorably took us back to the ‘iron bit’, then associations to Churchill’s cigar lead inevitably to another pale, scruffy-blond-haired, ‘Aryan’, self-promoting, ‘Establishment’ (of the ‘in it yet not of it’ type), self-consciously ‘eccentric’, bonhomous, clowning, hob-nobbing, celebrity serial abuser; hiding in plain view, in the very apple of the public eye, on first-name terms with the world at large; impervious to questioning, immune to criticism; the full horror of his depradations and the full extent of the cover-up around him only emerging even partially into view after he had passed beyond reach of the law of this country, or indeed of any other earthly judgement….

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Racial abuse. Let’s renounce it in ourselves. Let’s call it out in others, whenever and wherever it rears its ugly, privileged, supremacist head. Let’s be going along with it not one second longer.

References

Angiolini, E. (2017) Report of the Independent Review of Deaths and Serious Incidents in Police Custody. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/655401/Report_of_Angiolini_Review_ISBN_Accessible.pdf

Baldwin, J. ([1963] 2017) The Fire Next Time. London: Penguin.

Baldwin, J. (1972) No Name in the Street. London: Vintage.

Barker, P. (1998) The Regeneration Trilogy. London: Penguin.

BBC (2021a) ‘Kevin Clarke: Met Police apologises over restraint death’. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-55694916

BBC (2021b) ‘Leon Briggs: Police and ambulance ‘failures’ in restraint death’. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-beds-bucks-herts-56339607

Coles, D. (2021) ‘Deaths in detention: Why aren’t we learning lessons from UK deaths in police custody?’ https://lacuna.org.uk/black-lives-matter/deaths-in-detention-why-arent-we-learning-lessons-from-uk-deaths-in-police-custody/

Foucault, M. (1976) ‘Two lectures’. Translated by A. Fontana and P. Pasquino. In Gordon, C. (ed.) (1980) Power/knowledge: Selected interviews and other writings 1972-1977. New York: Pantheon, pp. 78-108.

Gilroy, P. (1993) The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. London: Verso.

Guardian (2003) ‘Detained man unlawfully killed by police’. https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2003/oct/03/ukcrime.prisonsandprobation

Guardian (2021) ‘Johnson proposes hi-vis chain gangs as part of crime plan’. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/jul/27/johnson-proposes-hi-vis-chain-gangs-as-part-of-crime-plan

Hassall, C. (1959) Edward Marsh, Patron of the Arts: A Biography. London: Longmans.

Independent Inquiry into the Death of David Bennett (2003). http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-files/Society/documents/2004/02/12/Bennett.pdf

Morrison, T. (1997) Beloved. London: Vintage.

Popescu, I. (2017) ‘Biting iron, forever smiling: the iron-bit, the wounded mouth, and un-silencing in Toni Morrison’s Beloved’. In A. Lobodziec and B.N. Fondo (eds) The Timeless Toni Morrison: The Past and The Present in Toni Morrison’s Fiction. A Tribute to Toni Morrison on Occasion of Her 85th Birthday. Oxford: Peter Lang. https://www.academia.edu/34936113/Biting_Iron_Forever_Smiling_the_Iron_Bit_the_Wounded_Mouth_and_Un_Silencing_in_Toni_Morrison_s_Beloved

Resler, M. (2019) ‘Systems of trauma: Racial trauma’. Issue brief. http://www.fact.virginia.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Racial-Trauma-Issue-Brief.pdf

United Nations (2006) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/convention-on-the-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities.html

United Nations (2017) Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Right of Everyone to the Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health. UN General Assembly – A/HRC/35/21. https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G17/076/04/PDF/G1707604.pdf?OpenElement

United Nations (2021) Promotion and protection of the human rights and
fundamental freedoms of Africans and of people of African
descent against excessive use of force and other human rights
violations by law enforcement officers
. A/HRC/47/53.
Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. https://undocs.org/A/HRC/47/53

Whitehead, C. (2017) Underground Railroad. London: Fleet.

Of unhoused minds and the ‘personality disorder’ fallacy

“So Koestler condemned himself to homelessness. All that remained were the ideas he dragged around with him like Job…Home finally was mind; home was homelessness; Koestler was the homeless mind.” David Cesarani, Arthur Koestler: The Homeless Mind (1998)

“The sufferer who frustrates a keen therapist by failing to improve is always in danger of meeting primitive human behaviour disguised as treatment” (Tom Main, 1957, ‘The Ailment’)

Recently, Barrelman gave a talk at the launch party of a book, in which he and a fellow Cynic have a chapter published. The book’s called Psychoanalytic Thinking on the Unhoused Mind. It’s put together by another comrade of ours – and a very fine volume it is too (this is the weblink if you’re interested).

Now, I get why the various chapters were collected under the rubric of ‘psychoanalytic’ and when I myself started off down this trail I admit that I hadn’t yet quite got over a lingering infection of Kleinitis that very briefly even threatened to develop into the rabid form of that ailment… However, as that other wandering Cynic once sang, ‘I’m younger than that now’ – and I find myself altogether more in the ‘psychosocial activism’ line these days.

Coming back to the main current of the whole ‘homelessness and ‘unhoused minds” project got me thinking about Cesarani’s famous rhetorical ending to his biography of Arthur Koestler – and also about another great twentieth century Central European Jewish author in the high literary tradition… Franz Kafka’s The Castle, as many of you may know, tells the story of K, whose profession ironically is that of land surveyor. K gets himself a gig in the eponymous castle – but no-one seems to know anything about it and he can never find the tradesmen’s entrance, nor can he find acceptance in the nearby village; and yet neither can he cannot go home.

As the following excerpt begins, K has been lying in wait, in the snow, in the yard outside the village Inn, to accost a fellow named Klamm: suspected to be a Castle official who could unravel K’s Gordian knot of longing, bewilderment and annihilation. K’s plan is derailed by a shaming encounter with a mysterious young gentleman (and accompanying flunkey) who orders him to move along and advises K that whether he waits or leaves, he will miss Klamm just the same…

“Then I’d rather miss him waiting’, K. said defiantly… K saw himself being left behind alone…both of them going very slowly, though, as if wishing to show K that it was still in his power to fetch them back.

Maybe he had that power, but it could have done him no good; fetching the sledge back meant banishing himself. So he stayed where he was, the only one standing his ground, but it was a victory that brought no joy…it seemed to K then as if all contact with him had been severed and he was now freer than ever before, no question about it, and might wait in this otherwise forbidden place for as long as he liked and had fought for and won this freedom as few others could have done and none might touch or banish him, barely even address him, but – this conviction was at least equally strong – as if at the same time there was nothing more futile, nothing more desperate than this freedom, this waiting, this invulnerability.”

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My ancient ancestor, that homeless, wandering, Cynical-with-a-capital-‘C’, manic street preacher of ancient times, Diogenes the Dog, was once found, (down on his dodgy knees) begging before a statue. The townspeople asked him what he was up to (for this is their more or less bemused role in all such stories: they are the Chorus). ‘Oi! Diogenes!’ they cried. ‘What on earth are you doing down there? You’re not going to get very far with that statue, now, are you?’ Diogenes replied: ‘Can’t you see? I’m practising disappointment’.

Now, for K, permanently displaced and snowbound, outwith the Castle walls, disappointment in the ordinary sense is a practice in which he will become very well versed. He can’t come in from the cold, in any direction. The more hopefully he travels, the more disappointedly he doesn’t arrive. But what I especially appreciate about the story is the hint of possession and constancy about K as he makes his stand and stakes out his resistance. It’s the only place he can stand – and in a moment of autonomy and self-possession, he comes to a realisation about this, however fleetingly. He could be understood as refusing the ride he is ambiguously and ambivalently offered by the mysterious stranger…the stranger certainly experiences him as having chosen not to take up the offer…but it now seems to me that, for K, it’s not a question of refusal. It’s more that the ride just does not compute. It’s a wagon he can’t imagine jumping onto.

When we started riffing off of the story of Diogenes and Alexander, we constructed Diogenes as refusing Alexander’s offer of accommodation, in an expression of what Zizek called Bartlebian politics – ‘I prefer not to’. According to this way of seeing things, K is saying: ‘I prefer not to catch a ride on any sledge commanded by you, Mister’. He ‘prefers not to’ cede any power or to banish himself – or to draw upon the example of Antigone, whose position in relation to Creon, the tyrant of Thebes, is very similar: ‘I decline to recognise your secular, public authority in any domain that pertains to my private and personal values and allegiances…’.

I celebrate anyone who can take and articulate such a stand but I now think that this reading is not quite right – that K’s resistance is more important than his refusal. I think where K takes his stand and stands his ground (K and Diogenes and Antigone and Bartleby and, say, Greta Thunberg) is in the only place he can stand. He resists the force that would drag him away from his moment of autonomy into what would in essence be someone else’s idea of how his narrative should read. The ‘Bartlebian’ moment is then the realisation of this – not the practice itself, but the reflexive consciousness of the power of the practice. Nobody can twist his arm into banishing himself.

The idea of ‘refusal’ remains significant – but its significance lies in the experience of the offerer, when he feels that the offer of accommodation is refused. It feels like refusal to the offerer, when his offer is not accepted. But the object of the offer may or may not have refused it. We know only this much: that the offer has not been taken up – at least, not on the terms in which it was made. The object of the offer isn’t ‘failing to improve’: it’s more like they’re resisting ‘improvement’.

One of the things that got me thinking about this was being part of a treatment team, being party to an offer that was constructed as having been refused. This was on an inpatient ward where the ‘objects’ of the offer were malnourished or starving people (mis?)constructed as or (mis?)understood to be suffering from ‘eating disorders’.

An entry would go on the progress notes: ‘food was refused’. Such was certainly the experience of the offerer – the nursing staff, for example, who have walked down the corridor with a tray in their hands and set it down beside the ‘patient’ – and then found themselves walking back down the corridor again, still carrying on their tray the untouched plates of food.

But I began to understand – and in fact, the ‘patients’ very patiently took my education in hand, in this regard – I began to understand that sometimes the sufferer, out of sheer terror, or bewildered and bewildering and circular rumination, hadn’t been able to come to a decision. The offer just did not compute. Like K in the snow, they had been able neither to move towards the offer or away from it. They had simply stood the only ground they knew how to stand upon in that moment. The offer – the offerer, even – had been resisted. It had not necessarily been refused.

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I think it does also behove us to resist. By ‘us’ I generally mean everyone, when it comes to pernicious discourses of any kind, but I particularly mean, for present purposes, those of ‘us’ who do the offering in such settings (or the writing about the offering). It may be, that as our practice develops, we may risk losing our compass – fluidity is our friend and rigidity our enemy, but fluidity is not the same as going with the flow.

For my part, as I get older (and older – or, remembering Bob Dylan again, do I mean younger?), I realise there’s stuff going round that I just can’t be doing with any longer. I don’t think that I mean this in self-deluded ‘heroic’ identification with some Wilsonian constructed outsider; but rather because it simply won’t wash and I decline to be aligned with it any longer. The lies and venality of our political classes, to give a pressing example: but the list is long, and I’m not here to have a rant. However, the one I particularly wanted to end by mentioning, by way of publicly correcting the record, is the deployment and weaponisation, within the system of care, of the contested diagnosis – the fallacious concept – of ‘personality disorder’.

Now the record needs correcting, because although those early papers were written in ‘critical’ mode, nonetheless, I’m sorry to say, the reader would possibly have come away imagining that there really was such a thing as ‘personality disorder’ and that all it needed was a spot of reframing. But it needs to be said very clearly that it just will no longer do to be telling people that the problem with ‘them’ is that ‘their’ personality is ‘disordered’, and that the remedy for this is a little more of that much-evoked and apocryphally ‘containing’ secular deity, Laura Norder. There is, in particular, and by logical extension, no such thing – no such illness entity – as ‘borderline personality disorder’. Note carefully that it therefore can’t be meaningfully researched, such as to test possible treatments for said non-existent ailment.

This is a blog and not a book (note to self: must write a book some time!) and so I can’t give you the whole lowdown as to why in the not so distant future the whole concept of personality disorder will only be found lurking in dusty box files in mildewed archives tagged ‘pseudo-scientific colonialist claptrap of the Industrial Age’. But a little history goes a very long way…

So next time someone uses the term ‘personality disorder’ about someone else, recall, if you will, Prichard’s 1835 definition of ‘moral insanity’, in which a diagnostic entity is inferred from a judgement on presenting behaviour and ‘the individual is found to be incapable…of conducting himself with decency and propriety in the business of life’ (this was before the present Conservative government was even a twinkle in the eye); and recollect that the formulation of ‘moral insanity’ was the medical ticket into expert witness status in the criminal justice system as psychiatry emerged as a distinct profession at the beginning of the nineteenth century (here I am greatly indebted to another fellow psychosocialist, David Jones, for illuminating some of this in his own comprehensive history of the development and deployment of the term…).. Remember the 1938 pronouncement of the psychoanalyst Adoph Stern that ‘it is well known that a large group of patients fit frankly neither into the psychotic nor into the psychoneurotic group, and that this border line group of patients is extremely difficult to handle effectively by any psychotherapeutic method’ – for this is the moment when the term ‘borderline’ came into the frame.

Fast forward then to 1980, amidst the tsunami surge of the neoliberal turn, when suddenly there was no such thing as society, the jobless we created were either ‘feckless’ or ‘on their bikes’ and only ‘hard-working families’ were beneficiaries of government policy: and the American Psychiatric Association published DSM-III with the caveat and proviso that its system was so imprecise that it should never be used for forensic or insurance purposes (and then fast forward to the sales figures for DSM-III, which very quickly persuaded those august gentleman of the APA that there might be mileage in more classifications and more disorders).

Pinch yourself on the cheek, therefore, next time you hear the term ‘borderline personality disorder’ and remember that it’s not yet forty years old and has been more or less discredited for at least half the duration of its (non-)existence. Remember Main’s warning about the risk of ‘primitive human behaviour’ being disguised as treatment. And ask yourself if this might not be a Bartlebian moment after all.

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I’ve stopped going along with the whole ‘there is such a thing’ discourse (as far as I can: I’m sure I can still be called out on this) and I’ve started actively resisting it. It’s kind of a liberating feeling (and I sincerely hope that it’s not only me that gets liberated, of course). You know how the way to negotiate the perilous web of a supermarket is consciously blinking, so that you don’t get stoned on the sounds, scents and settings spun by the marketing spiders as they pre-plot your purchases for you? It’s the same with all that stuff about borderline personality disorder. Once you start to resist, you’ll start to wonder how you ever got taken in. If there’s a single discursive practice we can pick out and say, well, no offence to Diogenes, but that old Dog has surely had its day, it’s what Edward Said in Orientalism called ‘othering’: by which he meant ‘disregarding, essentialising, denuding the humanity of another culture, people or geographical region’.

To which I would add the prefix: ‘toxic’.

Toxic othering: there’s much too much of it about. It’s like air pollution: you get so used to it, you don’t even know you’re dying. The only remedy is a zero emissions policy. When it comes to the homeless, the displaced, the dispossessed, let this new book, and maybe in some small way also this blog, be some part of the process, not so much of psychoanalytic reformulation, but of a psychosocietal process of resistance and realisation – I hope that a range of emergent practices may coalesce and cohere and crystallise (but not solidify) around it, as did K’s awareness in the snow – let’s all, indeed and after all, prefer not to go along with it a moment longer.

On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the closure of Henderson Hospital Democratic Therapeutic Community

Alexander     Dost thou not know that I am able to give thee a kingdom?

Diogenes      I know thou art able, if I had one, to take it from me; and I shall never place any value on that which such as thou art can deprive me of. …

Alexander     … for which purpose thou hast forsworn society, and art retired to preach to trees and stones.

Diogenes      I have left society, because I cannot endure the evils I see and detest in it.

From “A Dialogue between Alexander the Great, and Diogenes the Cynic” by Henry Fielding (1743)

Henderson April 2008 005

On 23 April 2008 at 2.00pm, a certain NHS Mental Health Trust closed the Henderson Hospital Democratic Therapeutic Community on a ‘temporary’ basis – pleading or otherwise peddling the usual piddling managerialist alibis and nostrums.

Even if you weren’t there, you can guess the sort of thing they said. What’s a fellow to do, we were – and are still – invited to consider, when he runs a big business and he can’t secure his cash flow? Our hands are tied. It’s no longer financially viable … and so forth … (if you can bear to look, some of it is laid out in the southwark.gov weblink listed at the bottom here). It’s been the same old song, for many years now, and it never lets up (or lets on) (or lets anyone off) and at some point you just know you’re going to hear those two dread words – ‘luxury flats’ – and another expanse of the Attlee/Bevan post-WW2 welfare settlement will have gone down with all hands on deck and the officers in the lifeboat, to the sound of cash tills singing ‘ker-ching!’ and developers popping corks – and also, somewhere at the edge of audibility, the continuing suffering of the marginalised and traumatised and dispossessed and excluded …

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I was there. A bit player: not one of the residents, or the residential team; not one of the potential candidates for admission suddenly denied an opening – but I was there through the death-throes of the community and I was there the day it was finally evacuated and boarded up. I was working for the Henderson Outreach Service team: it was my first NHS job. I started there in April 2001 and was there for seven eye-opening, humbling, almost overwhelming years that educated and moulded me as a person, as a citizen, as a mental health practitioner and as a psychotherapist. I then joined the massed ranks of the redeployed – an ongoing upheaval still playing out its consequences a decade down the line, in a minor but nonetheless sharply-pointed echo of and parallel process to the upheaval endured by those residents and candidates.

This is not all about me – but I do want to say how vividly I remember my first contact with the Democratic Therapeutic Community (DTC). As part of the interview process I was invited to attend the 9.15 community meeting. I was intensely anxious. Staff and residents congregated in this long rectangular space, dark in my memory but lit by windows and glass doors all along the long side facing the garden and full of assorted faded and shabby but snug and inviting furniture and fittings of the sort that nowadays would have the corporate drones diving for their alarm buttons on about 57 grounds of violation of health and safety edicts (NB this and other photos in this blog were taken the day the hospital closed, by the way) …

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Visitors were participant observers in the community meeting but active verbal participation was strictly limited to stating one’s name and business when asked and otherwise to remain silent. It’s an old cliché of the DTC, but it was not an easy matter – and why should it have been? – to distinguish staff from residents by any visual cues, and this is one of the things I remember so well: the disorienting (transformative) almost visceral experience of stepping out of the world of vertical hierarchy and rigid structure and into a liminal space where everything seemed to be up for negotiation in a flattened (not entirely flat, but flattened) hierarchy. And the other memory I retain is how excluded I felt: I was wrong, somehow, wrong to the very core of me; I did not understand, there was a language and vocabulary whose key I did not possess; I felt received but not welcomed.

I quickly came to perceive that in this way some fragment of the experience of the residents had been located in me, or I had identified with, as though this community had a sign above the door that said “do not abandon hope, all ye who enter here, but check your privilege, interrogate the quality of your own hospitality and get your head around what it’s like to feel excluded and outcast, and that right speedily, because this is the emotional work we do here and it matters very much” – or something like that, and I’m sure that anyone who lived there for the allotted year would be able to come up with something decidedly more pithy and concise…

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This is not about me and it is also not about recording a formal history of the unit: plenty of other places where that can be researched. But in case you don’t know what all this is about, I’d want to include you in! The Henderson DTC was in its sixty-first year of existence when it was closed. It therefore just pre-dated the inception of the National Health Service. It opened in 1947 essentially as a trauma unit, for ‘shell-shocked’ soldiers struggling to reintegrate back into civilian life after the end of World War Two. It went through changes of identity and changes of location over the years – and changes of funding, especially in the wake of the advent of the ‘internal market’ but if you want to know what people remember and mourn, when the Henderson DTC model is evoked, it is this:

  • Staff had no control over admission and discharge of residents inside the maximum stay of one year
  • Admission was by majority vote of a group of nine residents and three staff members – early departure from treatment depended on the vote of the whole community (in which residents always outnumbered staff)
  • There was no use of psychotropic medication permitted or prescribed
  • There was no coercive psychiatry or medico-legal technologies involved – no use of the Mental Health Act (or Probation Orders or conditions of residence or restriction orders of any kind) – no curfews, no restraints – as far as is possible to sustain in the UK of the late twentieth and very early twenty-first centuries, residents entered and stayed of their own free will
  • There were no ‘one to one’ psychological therapies available but a range of therapy groups, work groups and community meetings, which latter could be called at any time, day or night, if an issue affecting the whole community demanded the community’s whole attention

The American social anthropologist Robert Rapoport studied the Henderson Hospital in the 50s and in 1960 reported that four key characteristics defined the therapeutic milieu of the then twelve-bedded unit (when I joined in 2001, there were 27 beds as well as two other ‘replicated’ communities of similar size, in Crewe (Webb House) and in Birmingham (Main House)). These four characteristics Rapoport identified as democratisation, communalism, permissiveness, and reality confrontation. Transposed to the late period Henderson DTC model, these four ideas relate to major decisions all being taken by majority vote; to the ethos (‘communalism’) of staff and residents sharing with one another all the tasks and processes of daily living in a flattened hierarchy, with conventional roles consciously blurred; to the principle (‘permissiveness’) that there were no transgressions but only enactments, in that there were plenty of ‘house rules’ prohibiting all kinds of violence but it was understood that residents were not expected immediately or magically to relinquish safety practices (such as practices of self-injuring) that had got them to the door; and finally (‘reality confrontation’), to the principle that permissiveness did not preclude challenging the individual to understand that within the communal frame his or her actions had an impact on the rest of the community – and that by engaging in a given safety practice (slamming a door in frustration, for example) it was understood that distress had been expressed but that the individual had still placed themselves thereby outside the (conceptual) boundary of the community and would need to ask the community’s blessing to ‘come back in from the cold’ and to continue their emotional work (again, others may be able to put this into words better than can I who worked mostly at the edge of this system).

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Elsewhere, I have written in perhaps more moderate and balanced tones about the demise of Henderson Hospital and looked at some of the ways in which the DTC  in its defiant persistence may ultimately have contributed to its own dénouement:

“The Henderson DTC … not only represented an affront as well as a reproach to the over-use and abuse of medico-legal technologies deployed by the conventional psychiatric services for trauma and social exclusion that surrounded it: it also rather enjoyed actively poking its thumb in that system’s eye and should not perhaps have been so surprised when it eventually got thumped for its pains.” (Adlam, article in preparation)

“The Henderson’s own fraught relationship with the system of care … perhaps meant that it found itself too closely identified and ‘damned by association’ with the troubled, anti-social outsiders and misfits who were its client group.” (Adlam and Scanlon, 2013)

But what is a blog for, if not for engaging in familiar safety practices – which, in my case, right now, may well mean slamming a door, or even breaking a window or two? In the permissive culture of the therapeutic milieu, it’s understood one can’t be, would not want to be ‘reasonable’ all the time. Confront me, o reader, with reality – but not just yet, if that’s okay … because it’s ten years since Henderson was closed, and I am still influenced and shaped and inspired by my experience then and in the aftermath of its closure and I’m still mourning its loss but most of all at this the tenth anniversary (give or take a week or two of assembling my thoughts) I am really very deeply furious that it was shut down. I read through contemporaneous accounts of the closure process (some of which weblinks I’ve included as references below) and it still makes me furious. And I’m furious to feel that, provocative, even Diogenesque, though we may have been, nonetheless, some of the Alexanders of the field (not those many allies who stood alongside us, but those arbiters and authorities who stood by) did not come to our aid, or came too late, or came with weasel words, when eventually they rocked up outside our barrel…

Most of all, I’m angry because I keep encountering people who I feel would have found hope in the idea of the availability of the Henderson Hospital Democratic Therapeutic Community as a national specialist resource for traumatised and dislocated souls – and for whom that hope has simply not been available. That door has closed – like so many other doors.

People have died.

Who knows if they would still be alive, if they’d made it into the DTC? No-one can know this. And not everyone who did spend time at Henderson felt helped by it. But austerity and managerialism are violent and mendacious discourses and so let’s not get confused. Of course we could afford to keep the Henderson open. We could then and we could now. Spare me all that crap about cross-subsidies. The annual budget of the Henderson was about a third the cost of a Challenger tank (well, I’m approximating this detail off the top of my head, but that’s the joy of a blog, and you get the point I’m making).

In 2001 the Taliban dynamited the Buddhas of Bamiyan in central Afghanistan. They felt, so it seems to me, that the Buddhas constituted the wrong sort of evidence base and they hated how much those giant artefacts were revered by those whose hearts and minds they were determined to dominate. The closure of the Henderson was, on a much smaller scale, an analogous act of irrevocable cultural vandalism. I sympathise then with Fielding’s Diogenes, who forswears society because he cannot abide the evils he perceives in it.

We can’t just start up a campaign to re-open the Henderson. It’s gone. It leaves a hole in the fabric of the body politic that can never be repaired.

References/weblinks

Adlam, J. & Scanlon, C. (2013) ‘On agoraphilia: a psychosocial account of the defence and negotiation of public/private spaces’, Forensische Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie, 20 (3), 209-227.

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/261759145_’On_agoraphilia_a_psychosocial_account_of_the_defence_and_negotiation_of_publicprivate_spaces’

https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/A_Dialogue_between_Alexander_the_Great,_and_Diogenes_the_Cynic

http://moderngov.southwark.gov.uk/Data/Health%20and%20Adult%20Care%20Scrutiny%20Sub-Committee/20080227/Agenda/Closure%20of%20HendersonHospital.pdf

https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/mental-hospital-closure-plan-is-condemned-as-inhumane-765690.html

http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2008/05/27/henderson-hospital-staff-and-residents-fight-to-reverse-closure/

https://www.leighday.co.uk/News/Archive/2008/April-2008/Henderson-Hospital-closes-today—a-failure-by-the

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/7144686.stm

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2008/apr/16/mentalhealth

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“Nothing about us without us” – notes towards a draft manifesto for survivor-led emancipatory research

“The only true commonwealth is that which is as wide as the universe. I am a citizen of the world” – Diogenes of Sinope

“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” – Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

 

On a damp and foggy Paris day in December 2017, a small group of two survivor researchers, a philosopher, and a mental health practitioner (that last one was me) attended #ConfCap2017 to discuss and debate issues around the civic and legal and human rights of persons living with disability in the face of societal attempts, in certain circumstances, to restrict their liberty and to force treatment upon them.

We were invited to participate in a seminar/symposium in which we were asked to speak to this theme: ‘Exercice des droits et participation: entre contraintes et accompagnement: Recherche émancipatoire’. We began by considering the implications of Clause (o) from the Preamble to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities:

“(o) Considering that persons with disabilities should have the opportunity to be actively involved in decision-making processes about policies and programmes, including those directly concerning them,” …

Some of the philosophical territory was set out and then we spoke about different ways in which our paths as users and/or as providers of mental health services and as activists, writers, researchers and consultants had intersected – how our ‘given’ roles had been creatively blurred in practices of equality in the field of mental health – how ’emancipatory research’ might be an organising idea for some of those practices and what the UNCRPD preamble’s ‘actively involved’ might mean in practice.

It’s these ideas of ’emancipatory research’, which I must confess I only first came across when I received this invitation, and the possible meanings of ‘active involvement’, that I wanted to write about here.

It’s in the very nature of the term ’emancipatory research’ that it would be a very bad idea to attempt to claim or define the term or to appropriate, colonise or enclose the open spaces the term evokes and signposts. Here I just want to see if there’s part of the map that’s not yet been fully charted…

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I didn’t know a lot about the terrain and so I poked around a little and had a couple of pointers from survivor researcher colleagues. I probably missed a whole chunk but here is some of what I found …

In a book published in 2000 called ‘Research and Inequality’, co-editors Humphries, Merten and Truman reviewed arguments for an emancipatory research paradigm and traced some of the theories and discourses interwoven under this heading. They began with the Enlightenment as a movement located in optimism about emancipation (from scholasticism and the tyranny of superstition and religious dogma). They noted the importance and influence of Marxism, feminism, post-structuralism and other similar discourses and they identified research models such as ‘participatory action research’ (whose lineage goes back to Paolo Freire), ’empowerment research’ and ‘collaborative enquiry’ as examples of emancipatory research practice.

For Humphries et al., following Freire, emancipatory research is ‘research which has an explicit concern with ending inequality and taking the side of oppressed and marginalised groups…Knowledge is not just about finding out about the world but about changing it’ (Humphries et al, 2000: p.4.) And Humphries asks an important follow-up question (p. 186): “What does emancipatory research mean if researchers are inevitably implicated in power, so that our efforts to liberate perpetuate the very relations of dominance?”

‘Co-production’ was not so much of a buzzword at the turn of the century but that ethos also carries ’emancipatory’ connotations, at least in theory (instead of ‘us’ the experts by training producing knowledge for ‘them’ the experts by lived experience, let’s ‘we’ join to produce the knowledge ‘together’). Some other time I’ll share our co-produced critique of ‘co-production’ but for now let’s peg it as ’emancipatory lite’.

Jerry Tew (2003) shows how the conventional established discourses around the gold standard (an interestingly outdated term, this) in scientific/medical research paradigms are located in an excluding and objectifying value base and suggests emancipatory research would have as its task:

“To produce evidence and theory (concepts and frameworks) that can enable users and carers to:

  • have a greater awareness of their situation so that they can make informed decisions and choices;
  • have more control over their lives in areas where this may have been taken from them;
  • participate in areas of social, economic, and political life from which they may have been excluded;

and can enable communities and practitioners to:

  • challenge stigma, injustice, social exclusion…” (p. 24)

Emancipation, in any domain, is not a process of continuous progressive trajectory or a question of the quickest route from A to B. There are an increasing number of survivor researchers and experts by both training and lived experience who are making significant contributions in the field. The concept of ‘survivor researcher’ was news to the audience at Paris ConfCap, however, and as Diana Rose, Sarah Carr and Peter Beresford (2018) note: “service users, survivors and their organisations are pre-defined as consultants in research and knowledge-making and not positioned as leaders, knowledge-makers or researchers themselves. We do not appear to be permitted to enter the same terrain or space as ‘real’ researchers.”

There is some ‘active involvement’, in other words, within the possible meaning of the UNCRPD, but it’s the kind of involvement that mostly comes from being ‘included’ in someone else’s project…

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Here is possibly where the United Nations again comes in handy. Bear with me while I reproduce what they say a bit.

The ‘Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health’ (2017) proclaims (p. 6) that

“21. The promotion and protection of human rights in mental health is reliant upon a redistribution of power in the clinical, research and public policy settings.”

and goes on to recommend (p. 20):

“92. To address the imbalance of the biomedical approach in mental health services, the Special Rapporteur recommends that:

(a) States take immediate measures to establish inclusive and meaningful participatory frameworks in the design of and decision-making around public policy, to include, inter alia, psychologists, social workers, nurses, users of services, civil society and those living in poverty and in the most vulnerable situations;

(b) States and other relevant stakeholders, including academic institutions, recalibrate mental health research priorities to promote independent, qualitative and participatory social science research and research platforms, exploring alternative service models that are non-coercive;

(c) States partner with academic institutions to address the knowledge gap in rights-based and evidence-based mental health within medical education.”

So that’s a fairly clear rights-based mandate and indeed instruction to break up established monopolistic discourses determining research and knowledge production in the field of psychosocial disability (which term is broadly defined under the UNCRPD in a way that includes mental health issues and the contested domains of ‘personality disorder’, ‘eating disorder’, post-traumatic syndromes of various other kinds, etc).

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At ConfCap 2017 my colleagues and I looked back to the inspirational emancipatory pedagogy of Joseph Jacotot, concerning whom the contemporary French philosopher Jacques Rancière has written so eloquently. Jacotot, exiled to Flanders after the restoration of the French monarchy in 1815, discovered that he could teach French when speaking no Flemish even though his pupils spoke Flemish but knew no French.

Jacotot concluded from this experience that the role of the ‘master’ in relation to the ‘pupil’ needed to be entirely rethought and that “we are all equal in our intellect and common humanity”. Rancière critiques processes of social inclusion in which equality is constructed as a goal to be worked towards, arguing instead that we might simply assume equality from the outset and see how that changes our practice.

We also thought about the Democratic Therapeutic Community tradition in the UK since World War Two, beginning with a famous experiment in which Wilfred Bion, then an army psychiatrist in charge of the rehab wing of a military psychiatric hospital full of shell-shocked ‘soldiers who happen to be patients’, decided that his unit was in disarray and that the rehab task was hopeless unless the ailment could be displayed to the group as a group problem.

Bion formed an experimental therapeutic community centred around a daily parade ground meeting and invited the men to investigate their problems of discipline in wartime themselves, declining to exercise in any predictable way the medical or military authority vested in his role. The direct descendant of this approach was the Henderson Hospital Democratic Therapeutic Community, founded in 1947, which was the treatment centre in and around which, much later on, the paths of my colleagues and I converged.

At ConfCap 2017 we put the question whether this tradition of emancipatory practices of equality could be maintained and developed and we listed some of the ways in which we might be understood in different ways to have succeeded in producing knowledge together under this rubric and how this process has arguably become more emancipatory over time, at least in certain dimensions.

By this I particularly mean, that I was fairly clearly self-defining as project leader in my own early forays into research alongside survivors, whereas the roles have become gradually more ‘blurred’ (in therapeutic community terminology) to the point that recent and planned future ‘productions’ are either located in a practice of equality or may be understood as survivor-led.

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What then do I think I am doing, writing this blog and (for example) not even naming my colleagues? Well let me say first of all that I have not mentioned names because I am not assuming agreement with the train of thought I have set out here although I am very conscious of how strongly influenced it is by the collaborative work and I am not at all claiming thoughts as ‘mine’.

I also began by saying I was not going to make the mistake of staking out territory for myself or for my definitions of anything. Emancipatory research is a broad field and there might be something about this blog that justifies inclusion under that broad head, even if I am writing as expert by training.

What I want to do by way of conclusion is to jot down a few notes towards a manifesto or charter of some kind that might help to identify and mark ‘Survivor-led emancipatory research’ as an important and valued and differentiated subset of ’emancipatory research’ generally … and then see where it goes …

So – in that spirit – survivor-led emancipatory research is or might be understood:

(1) to be survivor led in design, implementation and publication
(2) to be embedded in flattened hierarchies and practices of equality that value expertise by lived experience
(3) to be concerned with, and to uphold a free and open and fearless culture of enquiry into, inequalities and dynamics of force within the system of care
(4) to renounce diagnostic models and categorisations that objectify the person in distress and not to objectify its own research subjects
(5) to place a value on deploying the self of the researcher
(6) to value communities of learning and to enlist experts by training in various fields as and when this may be helpful
(7) to value and privilege rainbow literature over grey literature

(8) to be understood as an anti-colonial practice and to resist and oppose discourses that would seek to ‘include’ it

(9) to be and to be recognised to be a form of knowledge production on equal terms with other such forms

(10)…..?

 

References

Paolo Freire ([1970] 1996) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London: Penguin.

Jacques Rancière ([1987] 1991) The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Diana Rose, Sarah Carr & Peter Beresford (2018): ‘Widening cross-disciplinary research for mental health’: what is missing from the Research Councils UK mental health agenda?, Disability & Society. DOI: 10.1080/09687599.2018.1423907

Jerry Tew (2003) Emancipatory research in mental health, in “Where you stand affects your point of view. Emancipatory approaches to mental health research. Notes from Social Perspectives Network Study Day 12 June 2003” pp. 24-28

Carole Truman, Donna Mertens, Beth Humphries (eds) (2000). Research and Inequality. London: UCL.

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health (2017) UN General Assembly – A/HRC/35/21 https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G17/076/04/PDF/G1707604.pdf?OpenElement

UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006) https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/convention-on-the-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities.html

 

The #PTMFramework debate – a Cynical view?

It’s been a busy old time for Barrelman in the agora, these last couple of weeks, I can tell you.

There’s all my daily challenges to grapple with: practising disappointment by begging from statues; waving my stick at people who don’t agree with me; trying to track down, by hook or by crook, one honest man hereabouts. Exhausting, questioning everything, you know. Not a lifestyle choice either, mind you – what’s a barrelman to do? it’s not about ‘good or bad’: it’s just the only place I can stand and still be me.

And now there’s all this tweeting and blogging and altogether just so many more things to Question. Take this latest example. All Athens is buzzing with this new philosophical manifesto – calls itself the Power Threat Meaning Framework. Aims to overthrow the Metropolitan Powers That Be. Especially the Medical ones. Sort of offering a Framework for a Meaning-full Threat to Power, if you follow me…

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Now you know me, I reckon. If there’s one thing I can’t abide, it’s the Metropolitan (Metropolis – City State – what it says on the tin, really) system of care. Whole point of me and my dogs being holed up in my barrel, here outside the Temple and just along the way from the olive grove (where Socrates used to hang out and make a very creditable nuisance of himself, few years back) is precisely that I do not and never shall recognise the authority of the Powers That Be to tell me what’s wrong with me or how I should live my life.

They might offer to relocate me, like the Emperor Alexander (no less!) did when he popped by for a bit of outreach work the other day. Cool guy, as it goes. We had a good chat and discovered we even had the same teacher back in the day (of which, more later!) – but notwithstanding, I sent him away with a flea in his ear (‘get out of my light’, I told him – you should have seen his face!). I’m not taking anything from that lot on the terms they’re offering it – which is always and invariably, that they could take it away again if the fancy took them. I’m just temperamentally incapable of ceding them that kind of power, no matter how cosy and structured a retirement plan they might have in mind to buy me off and shut me up with.

Who do they think they are, might I enquire, these great city-States: with their bigwigs and their elite in-groups and their excluded out-groups and their categorisations and their unexamined lives? Not to mention their disregard for animal life and the ecosphere and their colonial wars of aggression and the undeniable fact that their economic prosperity is built upon slave labour and Knowing One’s Place (and Minding One’s Own Business). The ‘Philosopher King’ says ‘The cobbler should stick to his last’ – I mean, please? Plato? Don’t make me laugh!

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So, anyway, not only am I well known to be ‘anti’ Metropolitan systems, but I’m also imagined to be pretty much ‘pro’ more ‘Cosmopolitan’ systems (which is what the ‘Framework’ is – bear with me!). I reckon this is because of one of my recent choice put-downs, when some practitioner or other asked me where I was from. Trying to get some narrative coherence out of me, no doubt. I drew myself up and I looked my haughtiest and I told him ‘I am a citizen of the cosmos, thanks very much’ … and before you know it, everyone and his uncle are wearing ‘Cosmopolitans do it ecosystemically’ badges and doing mindfulness courses in converted barns out towards Delphi way …

Well, I’ll come back to this point a bit later, about what I’m supposed to be ‘pro’ or ‘anti’, if I may – there being a rather significant and in fact total misunderstanding of my position bundled up in there somewhere. But when this ‘Framework’ comes along and is proclaimed in the main square and it’s avowedly Cosmopolitan and pokes its stick right in the eye of the Metropolitan system, speaking up for social justice, even asking some excluded people what they think about it all – well, you can see how people would figure I’d be like ‘yay!’ and gung-ho and putting out the bunting along with the rest of them.

Sure as I’m sitting here in a pile of my own dirty linen and not giving a damn, they got very cross very quickly when I started shouting at them too! Conceive, if you will, of their disappointment. But what I am urgently keen to understand is this: what on earth did they think they were thinking, imagining me as their cheerleader?

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To explain what I’m getting at here, the first thing to question, just to spell it out, is what exactly might be the difference between the Metropolitan and the Cosmopolitan systems. Might be obvious, might not be …

Now the Metropolitan system likes to think it’s not a system, not really and truly. ‘There’s no ideology hereabouts’, you’ll hear the in-group protest – ‘this is just how it is’ and ‘you can’t argue with science’ and all of that.

Okay, so this in fact is nonsense of the first water, because there’s a very clear ideology to the Metropolitan system – and that is that power rests at the centre and it’s up to the in-group to decide who gets invited in or not. Nice work if you can get it, of course (trust me, I’ve been there – or in fact, maybe DON’T trust me, because I’m tainted by association – well, either way…).

The small print of the Metropolitan kind of invitation is pretty damn specific and its special trick is that it excludes even when it looks like it’s including (note those active verbs, peeps!). If you look carefully, it says ‘Dear Barrelman (or whatever your name is, we don’t much care, so long as we know where you live) – Dear Barrelman, you too can be a Citizen of Athens, do please feel very welcome to come in from the cold, but only on the following terms (cue 426 pages of conditions, exclusions and penalties)’.

And right at the bottom, in slightly bigger font, just so we’re all clear, it reads ‘IF YOU DON’T ACCEPT THESE TERMS, WELL, TOUGH. We’ll either force you to come in, by means of what we call ‘medicalisation’ or ‘welfare benefit control’ or some other form of slavery – or we’ll leave you out there in the cold, and good riddance’.

So that’s the Metropolitan system of care, you see, and it’s kind of democratic, so long as you are not a slave or a homeless person – or a woman. Every so often someone says, okay, sod it, it’s bloody cold out here, and they accept the offer and the small print, even if they don’t read it or agree with it, and they get themselves some accommodation. Totally good luck to them, say I: I’m not knocking anything about that at all.

But there is a ‘but’. And the ‘but’ is that the Metropolitan system excludes faster than it includes, so the societal problem, if you get me, the problem of inequality and borders and privilege and force and generally trashing the place in pursuit of economic growth so we can go off and mash (or get mashed by) the Spartans or the Persians or whoever – the societal problem stays the same.

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So the Cosmopolitan ‘Framework’ has a much-hated system to go head to head against. And all credit to them: they go at it and set about it with much vim and gusto. Our Cosmopolitan friends pull no punches regarding the violence of the Metropolitan approach to sending out invitations. And then they argue ‘let’s not include or exclude by force across a boundary like those Metropolitans do’; instead, let’s include gradually, across a porous boundary so to speak (like the boundary of the agora, in fact, which is just a bunch of standing stones arranged in decorative poses at fairly wide intervals along the edge of the marketplace – nothing like your Long Walls down to Piraeus or anything). ‘Let’s see what develops’ and ‘why not come along for the ride’ – that’s their much more friendly and congenial idea of an invite.

According to the Cosmopolitans, we’re all citizens and we’re all linked to each other and the thing to do is to bring people in from the outer rings (starting with foreign peoples in distant lands, when we’re not enslaving them of course, and working inwards from there) towards the inner rings (community, family, the self, you get the gist) – by keeping the focus on what connects us all and not on what divides us.

So they’re for frameworks rather than fences and for descriptions that connect, rather than labels that divide. They have got various progressive moves towards equality on the go and they worry about the effect of the post-Peloponnesian War recession on the morale of the citizenry and, generally speaking, I hear you cry, what’s not to love?

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Two things, actually (minor quibbles aside). Two things, and they’re quite closely connected.

The first is this: I hate systems. I just can’t be doing with them. People think I’m anti-Metropolitan because I’m ‘on the other side’. Me, I’m not interested in that kind of talk. I carry no torch for the Metropolitans; but I have a pretty strong hunch I’m none too keen on the Cosmopolitans, either – not if a system is what they are after.

I don’t think you can include by excluding. The Emperor Alexander can go boil his tail if he thinks I’m going to recognise his authority over me. But it’s no use the Cosmopolitans denying his authority. Question it – yes. Go for it. I’m all for that. But I’m pretty damn clear that most people figure he’s presently in charge. Ask the Corinthians, or the Persians, if you don’t believe me.

My saying Alexander should get out of my light is not the same as my saying he isn’t Emperor. He’s a bloodthirsty warmonger, make no mistake, but he’s the most powerful man on the planet and we may possibly never see his like again, IMHO. Him being Emperor doesn’t impress me in itself; but if I did want anything from anyone (which I don’t), I know it’s him (in effect) that I’d have to be asking. I’m not sure that the Cosmopolitans have quite worked out how to get round that one; but plenty of people around the marketplace seem to see this as a bit of a sticking point.

Be that as it may, I say again, it’s systems I don’t like. I’m a Cynic, you see? Now on account of me making myself a touch unpopular about the place (crapping myself in public, thwacking people who don’t agree with me, not bowing and scraping to the Macedonians, that sort of thing) people have taken to labelling me cynical with a small ‘c’, like I was being destructive or ‘doing it deliberately’ or something. “Get yourself a teaching job, Barrelman, instead of haranguing people all the time and being generally a menace to traffic – don’t you know there’s a war on?” – you know, the usual sort of thing. You’re either part of a hard-working family in this city, seems to me, or you’re out (or else you’re a Philosopher King, of course: in which case, you get other people to do the ‘hard-working’ bit and you live off of the proceeds) …

But there’s nothing ‘small-c’ cynical about me. I’m a Cynic – and Cynicism is not a System with a capital ‘S’ – it’s a practice (with a small ‘p’) and the practice is mainly around not being taken in by economic power, not identifying myself as a consumer and, above all, not taking anything as read EXCEPT that man and animal are all equal under the sun and let’s take it from there. I don’t concoct or proclaim ‘systems’. I don’t even usually write anything down at all. I made these notes for myself but I confidently expect none of my jottings will survive for Posterity and rightly so. You can’t enslave me with words: questioningly, that’s how I wander about the place.

This Cynical practice actually takes a lot of discipline, which is called askesis if you’re interested. Not bigging it up as a practice – just saying how it is. It involves another thing called parrhesis, which means speaking truth to power. Power comes along, like Alexander knocking on the hoops of my barrel in the agora – you speak Truth to it. Simple as. Fact that Power wouldn’t recognise Truth if you thwacked it amidships with it, needn’t deter us, right?

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The second thing ‘not to love’ is this: there’s a bit of an idea around that Cosmopolitanism is The Answer. You’re either Metro or Cosmo – no neutral ground allowed. But I’m here to say it’s not like that.

Once you have a system, on this scale, you’re including by excluding. It’s a binary. You’re ‘in’ or you are ‘not in’. Like I say, some systems have city walls with spikes attached; some systems just have waiting rooms with comfortable chairs and cute but informative signage in soothing colour schemes. But ultimately, the action of including leaves some people the other side of whatever line you draw, be it never so pleasing to the eye.

And once you have two rival systems, well, before you know it, they’re like an old married couple that have started to look like each other and the rest of the world just quietly drifts off, leaving them to bicker themselves away into oblivion.

And what’s more: these two systems already look a lot more like each other than at first meets the eye. Both the Metros and the Cosmos have a plan for including and both begin by including. They just have different ideas about who and how many to include.

The Metros don’t muck around much; abrupt is their middle name; they’ll bang you up or pewk you out, soon as look at you. The Cosmos, they’ve got gentle, ambient stuff going on so you don’t even notice you’ve crossed the line (or signed on the line, perhaps more to the point); gradualism is their game and someday all peoples of the earth will be connected to the centre. But the invitation to come along in is still being made. And by the way, I got to quibble this one quibble: the Cosmopolitans don’t actually seem to be very, well, you know, cosmopolitan, in the loose sense of diverse: not when it comes right down to it. Not so very different from the line-up of the ever-so-Metropolitan Academy across the way, unless you squint sideways…

Me, like I said, I don’t care for System but I set myself a practice and my practice is to be asking, right, well then, so wtf? Who gets to say where ‘in’ is – or where it ends and ‘out’ begins? If including is to be our business, then that’s no practice of equality. That’s some gradual working towards equality at some unspecified date – signalled to be sooner in the Cosmo camp, a whole lot later in the Metro camp, but not in anybody’s lifetime either way.

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I’m a Cynic and I may not have mentioned this before, but Cynic comes from kynikos, which means dog-like – or dogged, even, as in bloody persistent, not to say downright stubborn, in pursuit of a practice …

So now I got to run. Dogs to water, heads to bang. But here’s two last questions for you. You remember I mentioned that the Emperor and I turned out to have had the same teacher? Aristotle, was his name. Well, as you can imagine, I let him know in no uncertain terms, what I thought of his system. But some of his ideas did stick in my head. He says you need to have a clear shared idea of what the virtues are, if you want to have a clear shared sense of what a good, a good thing worth striving for, might look like.

Now I know this smacks a bit of Metropolitanism and telling other people how to be virtuous. Aristotle will come in for some stick on this point one of these fine days, and it will be well-deserved when it happens. But imagine it the other way – imagine a debate where each group in the debate has a different idea of what a virtue is and a different idea of what a good is. I hope it never comes to that, particularly if this city gets any bigger, but I tell you, it’d be chaos – and then we’d have to propose ourselves a new system – and then round and round and on and on it would go.

On the other hand, what would happen if we assumed equality was already the way of things, agreed our equality right from the outset, rather than shoring up the crumbling walls of our personal or collective discomfort about inequality by signing up to a direction of travel, feeling at best doubtful that we’d ever have to negotiate the tricky business of arriving? How would it be if we just decided there was no need for ‘in’ and ‘out’ anymore, so that there was nobody left to include?

Just asking …

Author’s note

Barrelman would like to be clear that he has written ‘Diogenesquely’ for literary effect and so as to inhabit and personify the points he would like to get across – but also so as not entirely to veil other parts of his (online and offline) identity (in anticipation of one set of objections, likely enough!).

If anyone identifies with any part of this analysis of the debate, or feels Barrelman’s lantern has chased away a shadow or two, that’d be fantastic. But this piece reflects Barrelman’s take on the #PTMFramework debate and is NOT intended as an attempt to ventriloquise anyone else’s voices. There are perhaps many contemporary Cynics and barrel-dwellers in our communities but they are fully able to speak for themselves and don’t need words put in their mouths by the likes of Barrelman.

A couple of historical notes to end with, if that’s okay, to anticipate one other set of objections. It must be conceded at once that the historical Diogenes, while doubtless a great questioner of societal morals and mores, was no respecter of women – in that, alas, he was a more ordinary man of his time – and so Barrelman’s critical observation about Athenian democracy represents an ahistorical hypocrisy, one from which this author would wish clearly to disassociate himself. Also, ‘Cosmopolitanism’ didn’t really exist as a philosophical system at the time Diogenes was creating havoc in the Athenian agora, so a certain liberty has also been taken on that score … a couple of other philosophical borrowings at the end, Barrelman likes to imagine, could have originated with Diogenes anyway, so there he craves your indulgence …

“The only true commonwealth is that which is as wide as the universe. I am a citizen of the world”

“I am Diogenes the Dog. I brown-nose those who give me alms, I yelp at those who refuse, and I set my teeth on those who are rascals”