Life Ongoing. Shades and Blows of the Real in the Lives of Persons with Mental Illness

Tuesday, 12 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal 18 (Juridicum)
Distributed Paper
Tiago PIRES MARQUES, Centre for Social Studies, University of Coimbra, Portugal
In 2014, I began researching the changing frontiers of psychiatric and spiritual care in the context of globalizing trends in mental health care. A core feature of this project includes analytical accounts of the lives of people diagnosed with disabling psychiatric disorders. Between April and June 2015, I interviewed seven persons attending a Lisbon psychiatric hospital daily care unit . Prior to these interviews, some of these persons had been subject to periods of internment in different medical facilities. Since the interviews, most of these patients have been discharged from the daily care centre on account of their reported improvement.

Although providing valuable insights into the impact of mental illness on the lives of these individuals, my approach left me with a deep sense of frustration. What had become clear was that, besides the contingencies of the intersubjective relationship underlying the interview, these illness and life narratives had been strongly conditioned by the more unusual facets of experiential approaches, such as psychotropic medication, electroshocks and the psychiatric institutional setting. And then, life, of course, continued. At any rate, some of these persons manifested a strong sense of life continuing: discharge from the psychiatric institution was equated with a return to reality; with all its possibilities, closed doors, threats and blows.

In this presentation, I argue that in order to do at least a bit more justice to experience in sociological research, we are to complement conventional forms of narrative recollection with methodologies capable of articulating duration, rather than memory; encounter, rather than narrative; and ontological openness, rather than epistemological relativism. In dialogue with the work of anthropologist Michael Jackson and Cultural Studies scholars Lauren Berlant and Jacqui Alexander, I will build this argument through reference to some of the above mentioned persons.