Doing Mad Studies: A Participatory Action Research Project to explore the experiences and impacts of being part of a Mad People’s History and Identity course and the relationship between critical education, activism and emancipation
Mad People’s History and Identity (MPHI) is a Mad Studies course delivered at Queen Margaret University (QMU). The course is a partnership including academics at QMU, Consultancy and Advocacy Promotion Service (CAPS), NHS Lothian and people with lived experience of mental health issues. LeFrançois (2016, p. v) provides a coherent definition of Mad Studies stating that “mad activist scholarship, a form of knowledge production or collective intellectual contribution that is embedded in Mad community interventions and actions.” MPHI is an exercise in critical pedagogy to facilitate “conscientisation” through the exploration of individual and collective experiences of madness, psychiatrisation and oppression. It aims to engage students in challenging dominant discourses, creating counter-knowledge and activist resistance to the Epistemic Injustice and oppression experienced by the mad community. This PAR research proposed to explore the experiences and impacts of being part of the course. Its main focus was on the exploration of the relationship between participation on the course and activism. Congruent with the philosophy of the course, this research was committed to privileging the experiences, knowledge and histories of the user/survivor/mad MPHI students. A PAR group of four students, two partners from CAPS and the author co-produced this research. Data collection involved the peer interviews of nine MPHI students. The actions of the research were the generation of a Photovoice exhibition and the production of a film. The research revealed that participation in the course had facilitated change in both mad and intersectional identities. It had given voice to experiences of distress, psychiatrisation and oppression. The collective experience had fostered support, solidarity and increased social capital. This included accessing new communities, occupations and engagement with social movements. The course had raised consciousness of personal and collective oppression resulting in agency and engagement with advocacy and activism. Key words: Mad People’s History, Mad Studies, Participatory Action Research, Activism.