PEALS Seminar 15th February FOR INFO

PEALS Seminar

1-2pm 15th February 2012

Seminar Room

4th Floor Claremont Bridge Building, Newcastle University Campus



Articulating Mental Health Policy and Practice: On How Personality Became Treatable


Dr Martyn Pickersgill, Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow

University of Edinburgh

Science and technology studies (STS) scholars have, to date, been curiously reluctant to examine issues pertaining to mental health. Analyses of this domain are primarily located within more conventional policy literatures, as well as in the anthropology, history and sociology of medicine and the human sciences. In this paper, I seek to direct the focus of STS more explicitly on the conceptual and societal challenges of mental health. Employing insights from work on co-production, I bring the tools of STS to bear on the question of how personality became treatable. In recent years, personality disorders – psychiatric constructs understood as enduring dysfunctions of personality – have come into ever-greater focus for British policymakers, mental health professionals, and service-users. Disputes have focused largely on highly controversial attempts by the Department of Health to rewrite mental health law and policy, as enshrined within the 1983 Mental Health Act of England and Wales. At the same time, clinical framings of personality disorder have dramatically shifted: once regarded as untreatable conditions, severe personality disorders are now thought of as responsive to therapeutic intervention. In this presentation, I aim to cast fresh light on these mutations through a diachronic analysis of clinical and policy debates and wider institutional changes. In so doing, I show how mental health policy and practice have mutually constituted or co-produced one another. Through these processes, a profound reconfiguration of the ontology of personality disorder from obdurate to plastic has occurred – demonstrating the significance of interactions between law and medicine in shaping not only the administration of psychopathology, but also perceptions of its very nature. Such an analysis reveals the conceptual benefit that studies of mental health might gain through engagement with STS, but also underscores the importance for STS scholars of bringing mental health within their analytic purview.

This seminar is free and open to all.


Policy, Ethics & Life Sciences (PEALS) Research Centre

Newcastle University

4th Floor Claremont Bridge

Newcastle upon Tyne



Tel: 0191 208 3252

Fax: 0191 232 9259



Alisdair Cameron
LAUNCHPAD Team Leader,
NTWSU&C n/wk co-chair (with Mish Loraine)
(for network business: ntwsuc)

Offices 210 and 211,
Holy Jesus Hospital,
City Road,
Newcastle upon Tyne,

Tel 0191 2330382 (personal mobile 07736074213)
E-mail launchpadncl

or alisdairscameron

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