The Global Psyche: Experiments in the Ethics and Politics of Mental Life

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Across hemispheres, nations, and domains of social life, the language of psychiatry and mental health constitutes an increasingly universal frame for suffering while also expressing a human condition ever more liberated from and ever more alienated by medical knowledge. The use of psychiatric labels and discourses as tools of governance in the face of violence and disorder and as means of grievance and redress for social and political movements are not particularly new. But the present moment presents a particular density, ubiquity, and fluidity to both of these deployments. The affective dimensions of large‐scale political projects, from humanitarianism to environmentalism, electoral processes to ever‐expanding (self‐) surveillance practices, rest on objectifying interior states and generating master narratives of collective stress (Masco 2017). Psychiatric symptoms and diagnostic categories become sites of threat, governance, care, resistance, mobilization, and knowledge creation in domains ranging from health care access, borders and immigration, police violence, nuclear conflict, and control and funding of scientific research to white nationalism, post‐industrial precariousness, neoliberal managerialism, hate crime, and liberal apocalypticism. In the process, conceptions of mental life become sites of moral and political reckoning and ethical speculation and reconfiguration, birthing novel experiments in justice, rights, survival, personhood, and the good life.

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