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12/16/2015

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Komarine

Another excellent interview - thanks Shelley, and Damion. I'm sorry that you could not remain in the UK to finish the project work on schizophrenia. I've a passing knowledge of philosophy of psychiatry, and some familiarity with this research, which is - it goes without saying - hugely important. I'd love to read more about African-American aesthetics. I'll have a look at the sources you suggest, as well as your papers where they're available (my reading list is getting huge!). Do you see any close connections between your work in the field of aesthetics and the schizophrenia research (aside from the more general fact that both make reference to racial oppression?

Bryce

Wow! Super interesting interview, Damion. I'm really interested in your claim that "a good way to achieve continuing liberation and increasing equality is indeed to foster understanding of our shared human identity—heavily qualified, of course". I think you're absolutely right about this, and I'm just returning from two talks, one where I've made similar claims on the basis of data and models from cognitive science. Is this a theme you explore more thoroughly in your writing? If so, what should I read?! If not, do you have more thoughts about what our shared human identity amounts to, and what the qualifications are, that you'd be willing to share? I know that's a huge question, but I'd love to hear about what you're thinking. If not here, maybe over Skype or chat or email or something—if you feel like it.

Lynne Tirrell

Wonderful interview, Damion Scott! Good to learn more about your history and interests. And: Yes to this: "in general, people like me who have chronic invisible disabilities are expected to deal with their circumstances in silence. Since I came to this realization, I have done what I can to highlight the importance of the project of raising awareness of people with invisible disabilities."

Shelley Tremain

Thanks for the appreciative comments Komarine, Bryce, and Lynne. I know that Damion will respond as soon as possible. As Damion indicated in the interview, he uses voice recognition software which requires more time and effort than standard keyboard inputting.

Jesse Prinz

What a great interview! Such an amazing background and so many interesting threads and leads. Also, I loved seeing people like Afrika Bambatta and Sun Ra mixed in among the philosophers--where they should be. Maybe some links to Black and Afro Futurist artists can be added to the comment thread?
I thought the discussion of schizophrenia was extremely interesting too. In some way, i'd want to resist the working assumption that the asymmetries simply reflect over-diagnosis. No doubt that is a big factor, and the diagnostic category itself is something of a construction, but the assumption seems to buy in to the prevailing view that schizophrenia genetic (that is, there seems to be an inference from the lack of a genetic explanation to the conclusion that differences in prevalence must reflect misdiagnosis). I think Professor Scott nicely avoids this biocentric view, opening up the possibility that the experience of oppression can exert a psychological toll. It may be helpful, in this context, to think about poverty and oppression as forms of disability.
Thanks for this, both of you!

Shelley Tremain

Thanks very much for your provocative comment, Jesse.

Damion was meeting with students throughout the day and evening yesterday; thus, he has been unable to respond to any of the great comments on his interview. He has told me that he intends to respond to everyone today.

Komarine

Jesse - I'm not sure if this is the same research that Damion was working on, but I know there was a large-scale study recently-ish, which showed that there was a higher incidence of schizophrenia in immigrant UK populations, but no correspondingly higher incidence in populations of the same ethnicity who were living in the 'home' places. The same pattern was found in immigrant populations elsewhere in Europe, but with immigrants of different ethnicity. The interpretation of those results was that there was something about the stress of the immigrant experience that was playing a significant causal role in the development of schizophrenia. (I thought you might find that interesting.)

Damion - when you have a chance to respond. It would be interesting to know how that fits with the sort of research you were conducting (maybe it was actually the same research!).

Jesse Prinz

Thanks, Komarine! I'll check into that. Very helpful. I was looking at the NIMH annual expenditures of psychiatry the other day, and it's striking how much of it focuses on biological causes. Social factors affect both diagnosis (under and over) as well as social impact on symptoms are virtually ignored. In relatively privileged populations, genetic factors account for only half the variance in schizophrenia. When we consider populations under stress, the significance of genetic factors tends to drop precipitously. Clearly, if we want to know why people suffer, we need to be doing work like what you and Damion Scott have described. I'm exceedingly grateful for these leads.

Damion Kareem Scott

Komarine,

Thank you kindly for your response. I worked at the Institute of Psychiatry and studied (part-time) at Birkbeck College in London on a ‘working holiday’ visa. My dual American-Jamaican citizenship status made that possible as a citizen of a British Commonwealth nation. The visa I had was good for two years. Besides the work permission, holding that type of visa made me eligible for UK/EU student rates. That was important as paying international student rates would have been prohibitive. I needed to work in order to make it happen.

I coordinated my move to sync with the Birkbeck College schedule. I was lucky to find that research position at the time that I did. Certainly my research interest in the Philosophy of Psychiatry (officially the Philosophy of Psychology according to the official Birkbeck designation) played a large role in the hiring decision. The MA at Birkbeck at that time was conducted in consortium with other University of London colleges. I took several of my taught courses at King’s College, London right there at the Institute, as it housed King’s MSc in Philosophical Psychopathology. I would often go to class before or after working hours at the IoP. I forgot to mention my Birkbeck supervisors above in my interview. Professors Ken Gemes and Chris Janaway supervised on a thesis relating Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Moral Psychopathology. I hate to ‘name drop’ so much but I would like readers to know about the work and commitment of other philosophers and philosophical networks, especially in more positive contexts.

There is a bit of irony here. In my interview I referred to experiences with violent crime, particularly gun related crimes. I witnessed a murder in 2000 near my flat in Lambeth, South London and the police interviewed me about the incident. Scotland Yard and the London city prosecutor’s office asked me to testify in court about what I witnessed. I told those officials about my impending graduation and work situation. A few weeks later I received a visa extension of three months to staple into my passport! I submitted a thesis one month, took the degree the next month, when my IoP work contract expired, and I took the remaining two extra months attempting to look for other employment that would qualify for a longer term visa extension but I unable to do so. It was just after 9/11. I interviewed with a representative for a private boarding school in Wuxi, China, got hired, received visa clearance from the Chinese Embassy in London and flew off to Shanghai a few weeks later for a position teaching high school ESL.

I am not sure about a ‘close’ conceptual connections between my work in the African-American tradition of Aesthetics and prior and current interest in types of dysfunctional Psychosis. However yes there are connections, no doubt. I would hope that I will have the opportunity to make these conceptual relations and latent themes more explicit than they are presently. A few things that come to mind now:

1) I continue to work with problems of historical and conceptual relations between extreme ‘creativity’ as deviation from traditional norms and ‘deviance’ as creative coping in a world of variable relations, including social or ‘institutionalized’ contextual relations. I do reconstructive conceptual analysis and old school genealogy. I use the history of the classification of functional ‘schizophrenia’ in ways way that project future possibilities of conceptions of ‘creative genius’.

2) I think that some of the cognitive dimensions of the aesthetics (and creative processes) of the less powerful (regardless of race or one particular social-categorical identity)) are not only relevant to phenomenological issues of psychosis (schizophrenia being a particular type of psychosis) but important for broader themes of the aporia of ‘determinate’ versus relativistic’ sensory information processing. I am very sympathetic to approaches that integrate empirical research

3) I bet that there is a lot more to be said about the ‘natural kind’ status of many ‘psychopathological’ particulars (‘behavioral dysfunction’, ‘delusion’, ‘mental abnormality’) as well as the nature of expression of the Black Futuristic imagination. I have a few papers in the works including a piece coming out next year in a compendium called ‘Afrofuturism 2.0’ edited by Reynaldo Anderson that might be of interest to you.

Damion Kareem Scott

Hi Bryce, I am nearly finished with a reply. I'll post it in the morning.

Komarine

Thanks, Damion. I'll wait to read your papers when they're out. My main interest is phenomenology, so I love to see what people do with it and where they take it.

Damion Kareem Scott

Bryce,

Thank you. As to the first question, indeed it is a theme that I explore. I wish that I could refer you to an aspect of one of my publications but I don’t have any out just yet. Please know that I returned to academia after a twelve-year absence. Five years ago, if someone told me that I would be teaching philosophy and Africana Studies at my father’s, and aunts, and cousins’ alma mater, I would have laughed. I have a piece up for review in a peer-reviewed journal and an agreement to write a chapter in an upcoming Afrofuturism compendium. I could certainly keep you posted. I also have a few old drafts of papers on my academia.edu page.

https://stonybrook.academia.edu/DamionScott

Some of the usual conceptions of ‘human’ include rationality, understanding of intentional experience, volition and deliberative bodily control, dependent relations of care and recognition, embodied teleological or pragmatic relations, access to memories of phenomenal consciousness, shared genotype, instinctive behavioral dispositions, a particular type of ‘highly evolved’ animality, information processing capacities, moral and or aesthetic capacities, freedom or autonomy, and many that I am unaware of or have forgotten. Perhaps we could use domain-specific references for knowledge and power claims that relate some of these conceptions to and as ‘human’. Domains such as ‘art’, ‘science’, and ‘philosophy’. These domains converge at points in history and culture although many argue that they are incommensurable domains of knowledge or concern.

A bit of an aside but related, I have a difficult time understanding the lingering disciplinary decadence of the ‘Continental-Analytical’ divide in Philosophy. Similar, unduly biased power struggles are also manifest in binary oppostions such as ‘scientific versus humanistic’, ‘objective versus relativistic’, ‘rationalist versus experimental’ etc. So that brings me to your second question:

I think that theoretical models of human nature (conceived dynamically) can be important for understanding human values. Data matters. A collaborative research process, intellectual divisions of labor, interdisciplinarity, openness to factual discovery, objectivity, theoretical neutrality, conceptions of scientific advancement are all fine with me. Unlike some varieties of religious, phenomenological and post-structural positions I argue that theoretically consistent empirical research from particular sciences serve many pragmatic aims, including advancing causes of social justice and political equality.

Think about how certain types of scientific advancement have vindicated the debunking of pseudoscientific origins of many socially pernicious categories of social and political power: advancements in evolutionary biology eventually answering the distortions of a pseudoscientific racism, social psychological findings being utilized to identify the injustice of reductionist and/or essentialist ableism, phenomenological -psychological notions of transgender identity dissolving reified categories of exclusion and ‘dysfunction’ endemic in the ‘sciences’ of abnormal psychology and psychiatry. There are many other examples many of which I am sure that readers are familiar with.

At the same time, I understand the limits of objectivity and the paucity of scientism. Humans share a natural, factual identity as, and in the midst of, irreducible individual difference, openness to future transformation and radical subjectivity. For human persons, ineffable deviance and irreducible contextuality seem as ubiquitous as the invariance and relativism of physical laws (after and before cosmic singularities) and the reliability or vagueness of a priori justification.

Arguments against false objectification and misguided universalism are well known. I have a sense though that some of the contemporary claims of particularity and difference present themselves as liberational, anti-patriarchy, anti-racism, or distributive justice initiatives are naively eliminativist about the causal efficacy of self-deception, ignorance and violence. I could scream ‘black, disabled, poor’, ‘me me me and us us us’ in my work but I do not think self-serving focus on particularity alone advance broader pragmatic, moral or political aims, or not nearly as effectively as global or universalist approaches. I often refer to present non-human creatures as possible future ‘people’, virtual subjectivities, intersubjective dependency relations and power dynamics, superhumanity, and transhumanity, and the like in my research. I try to argue for some sense of shared human identity when it works and personal difference when the conclusions work towards practical aims. I do not believe that the objective identity of radical difference of subjectivity leads to injustice, quite the opposite. Sometimes though some of my work in ontology has no direct application to morality or politics. So, I also feel that there is space for theoretical models which have only latent pragmatic or applied potential.

This is part of what I mean by ‘heavily qualified’ but yes it is a huge question. Please be in touch!

My email address: damion.scott@columbia.edu
Skype ID: metaphysicalgaze.

Damion Kareem Scott

Lynne,

I really appreciate your comment here, your valuable research in understanding and combating Genocide and our previous friendly conversations. Yes, I try to do my bit. There is so much valuable critical philosophical work on recognizing, respecting and understanding disability and 'illness'. There are some fantastic support and advocacy groups as well outside of the academy. There are a lot of amazing individuals showing the power of disability. As mentioned, I would like to continue to develop senses of the 'as- of- yet -unrecognized' but possibly intuitive positions of oppression, invisibility or relative powerlessness. Ironically, some of my work seems apolitical or non-moral. I think that some of the feedback that I have received have confused negative arguments for non-cognitive aspects of power and value conflict for positive arguments for moral irrationalism or moral eliminativism. I do not have a command of newer research in normative ethics. I have to admit to more of a sense of an intuitive care-based motivation to frame certain prescriptive aspects of research about past, present and future harm and injustice. Although I am attracted to approaches that naturalize deontological theories, I defer to the expertise of others on this exact topic. I want to follow the lead of disability scholars who are providing transformational ways to think and act and learn from the logic of their arguments and the wider impact of their positions. Cheers again and let's be in touch.

Damion Kareem Scott

Professor Prinz! I think that your work is brilliant and inspirational. Thank you for your comments. I am busy grading and writing at the moment, but if I could ask your patience, I will compose a reply for you tomorrow. I will collect some of the publications for both yourself and Komarine. Speak soon.

Bryce

Damion,

Thanks so much for the extended engagement. This is a lot to digest, and I'm sure that I'm missing a lot (more reason to continue the discussion looking forward). I totally understand being away from, and coming back to academia. But I will definitely keep an eye out for your journal articles, and for the piece in the volume on Afrofuturism—seems like very cool stuff! And yes, please keep me posted!

I think that I tend to be rather skeptical of the usual conceptions of human that focus on rationality and deliberative control (Femi Taiwo (UCLA) convinced me that much of that skepticism was well grounded); and while I think that you're right about "dependent relations of care", I worry that many of the institutional structures that many of us inhabit are designed to tear down those relations and replace them with a (false) atomistic understanding of human capacity (that point was really driven home to me in thinking about the power structures that emerge in prisons, but I think it generalizes). It would be awesome if we could find a time to chat about human sociality, as well as the biological and social factors that foster different flows of power in the domain of sociality. I can tell that there's loads to learn from you, and from the folks you cite above, on precisely these issues.

Also I'm with you on the "disciplinary decadence of the ‘Continental-Analytical’ divide" and the disvalue of those disciplinary boundaries. I take my philosophical inspiration from Spinoza (and less so, from Darwin), and I think that also pushes me to agree with you about the pragmatic and social aims of ontology and views of sociality. I too think that much, but not all of our philosophical projects should be future-directed and grounded in "pragmatic aims, including advancing causes of social justice and political equality".

So, yeah, to make a long story short, I think we have a lot to talk about! I'll be in touch, and will be around in NY quite a bit in the spring so maybe we can meet and chat if you have time (if not, I'm happy to just skype, or catch up on facewaste).

Damion Kareem Scott

Jesse and Bryce,

Unfortunately, I am running up against a Monday deadline for several things. Please expect replies after the weekend. And Bryce, yes, I am looking forward to meeting you and speaking.


Cheers,

DS

Damion Kareem Scott

Jesse and Bryce,

I am still recovering after a super busy end of term.
I hope to pick back up after the holiday, if you are still checking this thread.

I wish you and everyone reading this a wonderful holiday season.

DS

Damion Kareem Scott

Dear Jesse,

Thank you for being patient. I hope that you are having a good start to this new year.

As far as your comments on my resistance to a biocentric understanding of the discrepancies in rates of schizophrenic diagnosis, you are correct. Now, in the context of the research study that we worked on, let me qualify a bit: I think that framing the problem of either over-diagnosis or mistaken diagnosis as exclusively a problem of failure to appreciate subtle genetic differences between ‘races’ (population groups with shared reproductive histories of relative isolation) and ‘generations’ (shared time frame of cultural history) somewhat begs the question from a theoretical standpoint, prior to the empirical findings. The principles in the Aesop Study could not countenance exclusively or even primarily social factors as effects of deviant or dysfunctional behavioral patterns, they had to be causes, causes with more fundamental, objective, and quantifiable (in short more 'scientific’) underlying causes. The study, as with much the medical social sciences had to meet certain strict design and operational criteria. I realized that early on in discussions with some of the lead investigators, It was clear that they were overly constrained due to disciplinary habits. Now, while I believe that pragmatic solutions to the first-order problem (why identifiable groups in some area seem to have higher rates of a type of psychopathology than others) are mainly constrained by causal (biological and psychological) factors, a holistic (philosophical) starting point that combined phenomenological (intersubjective) and structural (interpretive background of indeterminate functions) factors would have made aspects of the study redundant or even trivial. So while I learned a lot while working on the project, some of the hypothetical probabilities in the studies’ design struck me as quite obviously trivial or even wholly irrelevant to the first order problem.

I really like your suggestion about understanding ‘poverty and ‘oppression’ as forms of ‘disability’. I wonder how the the ordinary language concerns raised by such a construction would play out though. I am sure that there is research along these lines that might help me understand a clear conceptual link between poverty and disability, for example, but the phenomenological and ordinary (natural language) usage concerns about such models or identifications may be hopelessly vague, especially with the phenomenon and concept of oppression. I imagine that you would agree that the experience of oppression as a form of (social) disability is underdetermined by social psychological or psychiatric epidemiological facts, but that inferences from these facts along with facts from other domains constitute the relevant beliefs needed for practical action to deal with the problem.

I am more optimistic about thinking of 'poverty' as a a form of violence. This seems to be more coherent than poverty as ‘disability’ and could meet the problems of sufficiency in relation to concepts of ‘acquisition’, ‘infliction’ and ‘contraction’ better than a conceptual identification with the instantiation or a disposition of disability. Poverty as violence (rather than poverty as a cause of violence) is an idea that many post-structural writers have discussed. However, a precise analytical framework of the conceptual problem was offered by the philosopher Steven Lee a while back.

Lee, Steven 'Poverty and Violence’ Social Theory and Practice
Vol. 22, No. 1 (Spring 1996), pp. 67-82

Poverty may be disabling in many senses but by referring to it as a form of ‘disability’, we might well be downplaying the relative agency involved in understanding phenomenal aspects of poverty; reference to poverty as a type of violence might be a different story however.



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