Mark Creswell, School of Applied Social Sciences, Durham University
Between Sedgwick and Szasz: Schizophrenia as ‘Illness’ and ‘Myth’
Seminar 3 in the Newcastle Philosophical Society’s series “Schizophrenia –100 Years On”
Monday 18th April 2011, 7pm, The Cedar Room
(Upstairs at the Dog and Parrot, 52 Clayton Street West, Newcastle, NE1 4EX).
Two of the most penetrating representatives of psychiatric critique are the Marxist Peter Sedgwick (1934-1983) and the Libertarian Thomas Szasz (1920-). Although their work is equally ‘critical’, it is also incommensurable in terms its philosophical and political commitments. So: whereas Szasz continues to argue that the category ‘mental illness’ is a ‘myth’, Sedgwick always regarded it as an epistemologically relevant ‘fact’; and whereas Szasz opposed a privatised psychotherapy to a State-sponsored psychiatry, Sedgwick forcefully advocated a collectivised public and voluntary mix. Moreover, their incommensurability was not indirect: Sedgwick devoted a whole chapter of his magnum opus Psychopolitics (1982) to an indictment of Szasz; whilst Szasz’s animus against Marxism has remained vehement since his earliest works.
Yet, is it possible to plot a path for psychiatric critique between Sedgwick and Szasz? In this respect the author encounters an impasse in that in recent papers (2008; 2009 [with Spandler]) he has respectively endorsed first Szaszian, then Sedgwickian perspectives – an ostensibly incommensurable mix. But is it incommensurable? Without forcing a synthesis, the present paper considers this Sedgwickian/Szaszian ‘mix’ in light of developments within contemporary psychiatry – specifically, concerns with the epistemological status of ‘schizophrenia’. It interrogates the following questions: Can ‘schizophrenia’ be defended in Sedgwickian terms as consistent with a ‘unitary’ concept of ‘illness’? Or, to what extent should we still understand it in Szaszian (and Rylean) terms as a ‘category error’ and a monumental mistake? Finally, how, in the spirit of Sedgwick and Szasz, may we maintain a ‘critical’ perspective on the political and epistemological status of ‘schizophrenia’ today?
This event is free and all are welcome.