Psychopolitics: Peter Sedgwick’s legacy for mental health movements

Cresswell, Mark and Spandler, Helen orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-0970-5141 (2009) Psychopolitics: Peter Sedgwick’s legacy for mental health movements. Social Theory & Health, 7 . pp. 129-147. ISSN 1477-8211

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This paper re-considers the relevance of Peter Sedgwick's Psychopolitics (1982) for a politics of mental health. Psychopolitics offered an indictment of ‘anti-psychiatry’ the failure of which, Sedgwick argued, lay in its deconstruction of the category of ‘mental illness’, a gesture that resulted in a politics of nihilism. ‘The radical who is only a radical nihilist’, Sedgwick observed, ‘is for all practical purposes the most adamant of conservatives’. Sedgwick argued, rather, that the concept of ‘mental illness’ could be a truly critical concept if it was deployed ‘to make demands upon the health service facilities of the society in which we live’. The paper contextualizes Psychopolitics within the ‘crisis tendencies’ of its time, surveying the shifting welfare landscape of the subsequent 25 years alongside Sedgwick's continuing relevance. It considers the dilemma that the discourse of ‘mental illness’ – Sedgwick's critical concept – has fallen out of favour with radical mental health movements yet remains paradigmatic within psychiatry itself. Finally, the paper endorses a contemporary perspective that, while necessarily updating Psychopolitics, remains nonetheless ‘Sedgwickian’.

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