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Friday, December 6 • 11:30am - 1:30pm

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Chair: Charlotte Moore 

Hamish Robertson: Vulnerability Theory & The Social Sciences: A Patient Perspective

The social sciences have a long history of investing in the construction and critique of categories of people including gender, race, class/SES and ability. Such categories are prone to shift over time with new categories emerging (e.g. Hacking, 2006) and conventional ones morphing under dynamic social conditions (e.g. sexuality). The result is a complex interplay between society and category attribution, including systems for the maintenance of such category positions. In the social sciences, the concepts of risk and vulnerability can be brought to bear on the analysis of categorisation for different ‘kinds’ of person. Our research in the field of patient safety illustrates that some categories of person remain consistently vulnerable over time and space, while others may experience more dynamic vulnerability status. In particular, adverse medical events and associated systemic harms, are differentially experienced by different categories of person. More significant from a social science perspective is that some vulnerable groups are less likely to be the focus of patient safety research, and the harms they experience are experienced at higher rates and endure across time.

Bruce Cohen: Mental Health is Everybody's Business:The Social Control of the Workplace

In the wake of staffing and funding cuts in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Auckland in 2018, a ‘Social & Wellness Committee’ was established “to help foster a positive workplace culture and environment that promotes staff wellness (physical and mental), and is welcoming, inclusive and safe for all staff”. This presentation examines whether the rise of such initiatives in the workplace is purely coincidental or rather part of a systematic attempt to more closely manage and surveil over-worked and ‘disengaged’ employees in neoliberal society. Through socio-historical analysis of previous psy-professional understandings of the workplace, it will be highlighted how there has been a fundamental shift in conceptions of employees from contented to ‘at risk’ subjects, initiated through the American Psychiatric Association’s publication of their third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) in 1980. With reference to the contemporary critical research on workplace mental health, this presentation will forward that being un(der)productive is now constructed as a sign of mental illness, and the introduction of mental health and wellness initiatives has become a way to more effectively monitor and police emotionally-suspect individuals.

Martin Harbusch: Controlling Psychiatry?: (Non)Psychiatric disciplines as a hidden force for the (re)production of psychiatric knowledge

The acceptance of psychiatric categories for describing irritated social situations has grown in professional and private contexts. Not only has the number of psychiatric categories increased since 1980, the year of the publication of DSM III; ideas of mental health and illness have also paradigmatically changed to medical stories of the “broken brain”. Critics have widely discussed the power of psychiatry, its institutions and the consequences psychiatric actions and narratives have for their clients. Today’s research emphasizes the reproduction and solidification of psychiatry beyond psychiatry itself.
One of these contexts is the setting of social work. I am interested in the way social institutions as „troubled persons industries“ (Gusfield 1989) and social workers as academically educated experts embedded in “real world” situations use psychiatric categories. This study will show and discuss uses and forms of illness categories from interviews with professionals from different contexts of social work. These sequences will show how social workers not only control psychiatric labels for the description of the every-day-life-situations. They also demonstrate how social workers are able to control the (self-)narratives of their clients, the role of other institutions and “psy-professions” (Cohen 2016) and the entire impact of the psychiatric labels for everyday life.

Natalie Cowley: Understanding Sadness Within the Depression Phenomenon

Depression is predominantly understood as a serious mental illness and rising global health problem of epidemic proportions to be treated with antidepressant medication and psychotherapy. Dominant interpretations of profound and enduring sadness are contested by a growing number of mental health researchers, mainly for the lack of evidence of depression’s biological basis and whether current treatment models work to alleviate it. I draw on sociological literature to problematise the concept of depression and highlight the disquiet surrounding dominant interpretations so that mental distress characterised by despondency might be understood and responded to in different ways. Alternative understandings point convincingly to structural determinants of profound and enduring sadness, such as a sense of alienation caused by individualism. Other sociological critiques configure mental illness as a matrix of social construction and political power, while there are several calls for the voices of the depressed to bear witness to the oppressive conditions of neoliberalism.

Each presentation will be allocated 20 minutes. Additional time for questions and discussion will be available in each stream.


Bruce Cohen

University of Auckland

Hamish Robertson

Senior Lecturer, University of Technology Sydney
health geography, ageing, disability, patient safety

Friday December 6, 2019 11:30am - 1:30pm NZDT
206-203 - Lecture Theatre 2