Mad people’s heritage in Sweden, like so many other places in the world, has a long and important history that is now being acknowledged from the perspectives of those who have lived it in the past and present. (Punzi 2019; Rodéhn 2020) It is an honour to be asked to write these few words of introduction to the first book on Mad Studies in Sweden by activists and researchers whose contributions are so very important in helping establish the field in Scandinavia and beyond. Prior to the eighteenth-century most of this history was written about rather than by mad people. For over three hundred years individuals have left written accounts of what it was like to be mad and to be treated as such by their contemporaries. (Peterson 1982; Porter 1987; Ingram 1997; Reaume 2017) Since the late nineteenth century, as mass literacy spread, the diversity of mad people’s writings increased beyond the upper and middle classes who left the earliest first-person accounts. The diversity of mad people’s perspectives from all backgrounds has enriched the understanding of our history and how it relates to contemporary struggles for social justice among marginalized populations. These authors, many of whom were not well known during the lifetimes, were the first proponents of what is now called “Mad Studies”, though long before such a field came to be named. William Belcher, writing in 1796 after being released from seventeen years imprisonment in a British mad house, underlined the essential importance of criticizing those who oppressed those like him: “If the publication of my case is dangerous, so is likewise silence.” (Belcher, in Ingram, 1997)
Mad Studies arose out of the development of activism and research by people who identity as mad, along with the support of allies, who have sought to challenge dominant ways of thinking about madness by doctors, mental health professionals and their like-minded colleagues in the medico-legal-academic professions. This activism, whether in the case of solitary writers like Belcher seeking some form of justice for him and others contemptuously dismissed as mad, or in organized groups like the Alleged Lunatics Friends Society, one the first organized groups of its kind from 1845-1863 in Britain, or in more recent mad activism since the late twentieth century in various parts of the world, has all contributed to the existence of both mad heritage and mad studies. (Hervey, 1986; Beresford and Russo, 2021) Historically and collectively, these authors and activists have been central to creating space in both the academy and the wider community for the study of critical perspectives of people whose views have historically been scorned. While work that specifically identifies as belonging to Mad Studies is a recent development, the field is the direct beneficiary of centuries of critical analyses by mad people and allies far beyond our current times and developments.
Mad Studies, a term coined by Richard Ingram in 2008, was initiated from the beginning by people who identify as having experienced madness, as well as allies working in league with mad activists. For example, Robert Menzies, who does not identify as mad but has been a long-time ally of mad activists, initiated, and co-edited, the first book solely devoted to this topic in North America, Mad Matters. (LeFrancois, Menzies, Reaume, 2013) Furthermore, it is essential to point out the global connections that exist in this field. Mad Studies scholars have critiqued from early on the “psychiatrization of the majority world”, as described in a book by China Mills on this topic. (Mills, 2014) Similarly, Mad Studies proponents incorporate intersectional analysis regarding racialized, gendered, class-based and disability related issues that influence who is diagnosed as mentally ill or mad and why and how this impacts their life. (Gorman, 2013; Pickens, 2019; Bruce 2021; Redikopp 2021) This in turn is related to western concepts of mental illness being defined and imposed by people from outside the cultures to whom they ascribe these labels.
Mad Studies refers to critical analyses of the vast diversity of experiences and definitions of madness from the perspectives of mad people in historical and contemporary contexts. The field uses critical historical, theoretical and methodological approaches to interpret how madness has been understood by people who have lived with madness in the past, as well as today, and to examine how this term has been interpreted over the centuries. The point is to approach the experiences of people deemed mad, and those who inter-act with us, as being directly related to our wider social location rather than based on an individual’s body chemistry, or genetics. Thus, Mad Studies does not subscribe to the medical model of mental illness, per se, but does seek to critically engage any and all who do find aspects of this model necessary for their own well-being. Mad Studies proponents, having been there ourselves, appreciate that no one approach is guaranteed to address everyone’s needs in times of mental despair whether short-term or long-term. Like other critically engaged studies on topics such as disability, class, race, gender, and sexuality, among other areas, Mad Studies is focused on understanding the varied experiences of madness. Proponents engage this topic outside of the medical model by considering madness from the multiple perspectives and backgrounds of mad people which underlines the importance of social contexts in this regard.
Mad Studies is interdisciplinary involving researchers, writers, activists, artists and health care professionals from the wider community. It is currently a broad tent which encompasses no single discipline or theoretical approach but instead engages feminist, Marxist, post-modernist, post-colonial and critical race theory, among others. The common thread that brings these varied approaches together is critical analyses of the psy or mental health professions and how alternative ways of understanding madness seek to provide support for people searching for alternatives to mainline mental health approaches. Basically, Mad Studies moves away from pathologizing madness as a bio-medical, individualistic phenomenon.
There have also been critiques of Mad Studies from within by activists and writers who have critiqued it for being framed by white people’s concerns with Black madness being a tokenistic addition rather than central focus of concern. (Pickens, 2019; Bruce, 2021) Who can even identify publicly as “mad” has been raised by activists and scholars who point out that it is much safer for a white mad activist and academic to publicly identify in this way, than for racialized people whose experiences of interaction with police have been far deadlier than for white people. White people can be public as mad with less fear of being restrained, tasered or shot to death by medico-legal authorities than racialized people deemed mad. Anti-racist activists have for decades critiqued and organized against the police use of lethal force when responding to mental health crises among Black, Indigenous and Asian people deemed mentally ill. (Saidullah 2002) Inequities around madness reflect the wider prejudices experienced for generations by mad people generally and by communities further marginalized due to interconnecting prejudices related to race, class, gender, sexual identity and disability.
Like Mad Studies, Critical Heritage Studies, is a relatively new field of study in the academy. Both fields, however, have long existed in other forms, through critical interpretations of histories about who gets included or excluded from public memory whether on the page or on plaques commemorating history. Certain common themes that can help to define Critical Heritage Studies include the point that this field is about the present, in regard to how past experiences are interpreted in current times and are related to contemporary influences. Critical Heritage Studies deals with current relationships between people, heritage and power, above all, who gets to be remembered and how in our collective history. This approach reflects tension in how heritage is interpreted and conserved. It is always under a process of negotiation between those in positions of knowledge-power, that is, among people who write what goes into public heritage documents, exhibits, plaques, and preservation efforts, and those who advocate for the inclusion of a previously neglected community’s historical experiences and artifacts. (Wells 2017) Sometimes, as with the joining of Mad People’s History and Heritage Studies, for example, people who produce publicly available heritage representations of a particular community, directly involve those who have lived this history. (Punzi, 2019; Reaume, 2016) When this has happened it is only after years of advocacy for the inclusion of those who have previously been left out of official heritage displays. Critical Heritage Studies is viewed as a way of intellectually, culturally and socially interacting with the past in the present among people for whom it is a real part of our lives as well as for those who are engaged in heritage production. This process also reflects creative tensions between and within communities about how our history is, or is not, told and preserved. Who gets to take part in formulating what is Mad Studies and Critical Heritage Studies is a basic point that brings both fields together. Critical Heritage Studies, like Mad Studies, is not static but always under negotiation and evolving, as this collection about Swedish Mad Studies clearly shows.
Critical Heritage Studies also engages in understanding heritage from a “bottom-up perspective” (Ashley, Terry & Lapace, 2018). In this sense, Critical Heritage Studies is similar to Mad Studies in that it engages the views of people at the ground level of history and contemporary society who have been and are today directly impacted by the issues being discussed in both areas of research. It is in this sense that the fields of Mad People’s History, Mad Studies and Critical Heritage Studies can be favourably compared as mutually reinforcing their research and activist goals. All of them have taken a well established area of research and reinterpreted it by offering a critical analyses: psychiatric/medical history is critiqued by Mad People’s History for neglecting first-person accounts of madness and whitewashing critiques of power relations within this context; the domination of contemporary health sciences and psychiatric professions as well as their medical model control is critiqued by Mad Studies; institutional heritage practices are critiqued by Critical Heritage Studies for presenting an official, establishment-oriented interpretation of the past. All of these fields aim to include the perspectives of groups who have been marginalized in the past and present due to intersections of madness, gender, class, race, disability and sexual identity.
At the same time, it is a basic part of our work to be critical of our critiques in each area of research. Just because research is done from the ground up or represents a previously ignored group of people does not mean it should be accepted at face value with no further reflection. Rodney Harrison, who has published a book on Critical Heritage Studies, has argued that “all forms of heritage-making need to be scrutinised critically – not just ‘expert’ claims to heritage but popular ones too.” (Harrison 2018) A similar critique can also be applied to Mad People’s History and Mad Studies in that the views of people deemed mad are privileged as inherently more credible than those who are not mad as a way of righting a historical wrong where mad peoples’ views were automatically dismissed as “madness” or as meaningless. Criticism can be made that valorizing mad people’s expressions could lead to a situation where whatever a person deemed mad expresses is uncritically accepted and applauded. It is essential in Mad People’s History and Mad Studies that madness and mad people should not be romanticized as being inherently ethically superior or as a source of wisdom compared to people who are not deemed mad. Mad people’s expressions and actions deserve as much critical analyses for their impact on fellow human beings as much as does that of anyone else, past or present. The point is to approach the experiences of people deemed mad, and those who inter-act with us, as being directly related to our wider social location rather than based on an individual’s presumed pathology. Above all, the point is to take mad people’s views as seriously as anyone else’s views.
Mad People’s History, Mad Studies and Critical Heritage Studies encompass fields which critique established institutional practices of doing work in history, the helping professions and heritage interpretations. The link between Mad People’s History and Mad Studies has been built into these interlocking fields long before either were called by their current names. While Critical Heritage Studies has developed separate or parallel to Mad People’s History and Mad Studies, there are connections, both critical and in regard to public interpretations of each field. Both seek to make their field of study more inclusive, respectful and appealing to a wider population base for whom historical and contemporary issues have a direct impact. As Harrison (2018) notes in regards to Critical Heritage Studies, and as can be said about Mad People’s History and Mad Studies, critical analysis does not end with interpretation about people, events or places whom we are trying to include in our research and public presentations. The word “critical” has and will continue to make each field more rigorous in its analyses and findings. This will in turn enhance the seriousness of each field as activists and researchers provide a wider representation of previously neglected approaches, topics and communities in the past and present. The pages which follow show how Mad Studies and Critical Heritage Studies have become so vibrant in Sweden as activists contribute in creatively different ways through research, art and advocacy in getting their message out to the wider community. Congratulations to all involved for this important new book.
Note: An earlier version of this article was presented in the Department of Social Work and Centre for Critical Heritage Studies, University of Gothenburg, February 18, 2020. Thank you to Professor Elisabeth Punzi for inviting me to make this presentation.
Ashley, Susan, Andrea Terry & Josee LaPace. (2018) “Introduction: Critical Heritage Studies in Canada”, Journal of Canadian Studies (Winter): 1-10.
Belcher, William. (1997) “Address to Humanity: Containing, a Letter to Dr. Thomas Monro: A Receipt to Make a Lunatic, and Seize his Estate; and a Sketch of a True Smiling Hyena, 1796,” in Voices of Madness: Four Pamphlets, 1683-1796, Allan Ingram (ed.). (Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing): 129-135.
Beresford, Peter and Jasna Russo, eds. (2021) The Routledge Handbook of Mad Studies: Critical International Perspectives on doing Mad Studies (London: Routledge).
Bruce, La Marr Jurelle. (2021) How to Go Mad without Losing Your Mind: Madness and Black Radical Creativity. Durham N.C.: Duke University Press.
Gorman, Rachel. (2013). “Mad Nation? Thinking Through Race, Class and Identity Politics.” In LeFrancois, B, Menzies, R., Reaume, G., (eds.). Mad Matters: A Critical Reader in Canadian Mad Studies. Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press: 269-80.
Harrison, Rodney (2018) “Critical Heritage Studies beyond epistemic popularism”. Antiquity 92:365 (October), e9 https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/antiquity/article/critical-heritage-studies-beyond-epistemic-popularism/3183C46CFE9E4D73C0983C8834DC859E/core-reader
Hervey, Nicholas. (1986) “Advocacy or Folly: The Alleged Lunatics’ Friends Society, 1845-63,” Medical History 30:3 (July): 245-275
Ingram, Allan, ed. (1997) Voices of Madness: Four Pamphlets, 1683-1796. (Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing.
Ingram, Richard. (2008). “Mapping ‘Mad Studies’: The Birth of an In/discipline.” Paper presented at Disability Studies Student conference, Syracuse University.
LeFrancois, Brenda, Robert Menzies and Geoffrey Reaume, eds. (2013) Mad Matters: A Critical Reader in Canadian Mad Studies. (Toronto: Canadian Scholars Press).
Mills, China. (2014). Decolonizing Global Mental Health: The Psychiatrization of the Majority World. London: Routledge.
Peterson, Dale, ed. (1982) A Mad People’s History of Madness. (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press)
Porter, Roy. (1987) A Social History of Madness: Stories of the Insane. (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson)
Pickens, Therí Alyce. (2019) Black Madness : : Mad Blackness. (Durham: Duke University Press).
Punzi, Elisabeth. (2019) “Ghost Walks or Thoughtful Remembrance: How should the heritage of psychiatry be approached?” The Journal of Critical Psychology, Counselling and Psychotherapy 19:4, 242-251.
Redikopp, Sarah. (2021) “Out of Place, Out of Mind: Min(d)ing Race in Mad Studies Through a Metaphor of Spatiality.” Canadian Journal of Disability Studies 10:3, 96-118.
Reaume, Geoffrey. (2016) “A Wall’s Heritage: Making Mad People’s History Public”, Public Disability History blog journal 1:20 (November 21), available on-line at: http://www.public-disabilityhistory.org/2016_11_01_archive.html
Reaume, Geoffrey. (2017) “From the Perspectives of Mad People”, in The Routledge History of Madness and Mental Health, Greg Eghigian, (ed.). (London: Routledge): 277-296.
Rodéhn, Cecilia. (2020) “Emotions in the Museum of Medicine. An investigation of how museum educators employ emotions and what these emotions do,” International Journal of Heritage Studies, 26:2, 201-213, DOI: 10.1080/13527258.2018.1557236
Saidullah, Ahmad, et. al. (2002) Saving Lives: Alternatives to the Use of Lethal Force by Police – Report of a Conference Held in Toronto, June 23-24, 2000, Urban Alliance on Race Relations, Queen Street Patients Council (Toronto: Urban Alliance on Race Relations).
Wells, Jeremy. (2017) “What is Critical Heritage Studies and how does it incorporate the discipline of history?” Conserving the Human Environment online at: http://heritagestudies.org/index.php/2017/06/28/what-is-critical-heritage-studies-and-how-does-it-incorporate-the-discipline-of-history/