Beyond the horizon: the landscape of madness, distress and disability

Anderson, Jill, Spandler, Helen orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-0970-5141 and Sapey, Bob (2015) Beyond the horizon: the landscape of madness, distress and disability. In: Madness, Distress and the Politics of Disablement. Policy Press, pp. 287-292. ISBN 9781447314592

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This book has explored the distinctions and boundaries between madness/distress and disability, and has highlighted some potential bridges between them. Through bringing together key scholars and activists, from the disabled people's and survivor movements, and from disability studies and mad studies, we wanted to build on established knowledge to generate fresh learning, support the formation of alliances and even inspire action. Our project seemed both timely and considerably overdue.

We were conscious that engagement at these boundaries brings risks: of talking at cross purposes, of semantic entanglements, intellectualisations and the fuelling of misunderstandings and misperceptions. Common words like madness or disability resonate differently in diverse contexts and are interconnected, so that ‘using one particular word leads more easily to some words than to others’ (Biesta, 2010, 540); impairment to mental illness, for example. We were aware that our attempts, and those of our contributors, to articulate complex issues, especially where there is disagreement, might sow the seeds of conflict, confusion or inertia. Rather than bringing people closer, there was a danger of reaping greater distance and division.

Yet we wanted to promote understanding and appreciation of each other's positions and perspectives, and we felt that highlighting these complexities would ultimately be helpful. As we have seen, differences and disagreements exist not only between people in the mental health user/survivor movements on the one hand, and the disabled people’s movement on the other, but within those movements too. Moreover, these debates take on a different flavour and importance as they are refracted through diverse welfare contexts. For example, this book includes reflections on the impact of psychiatric colonialism in India; welfare collectivist traditions in Western Europe; and the individual rights focus which has characterised activism in the US.

We have tried to build on earlier initiatives (Plumb, 1994; Sayce, 2000; Beresford et al, 2010; Anderson et al, 2012) to create new opportunities for learning in the borderlands of madness, distress and disability. Consciously inhabiting that territory while pulling this book together, we are left with many unanswered questions. Each and every chapter has significantly increased our understanding of the issues. Yet we remain profoundly ambivalent about some of the issues we originally set out to resolve in this book.

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