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01/20/2016

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Komarine

Thanks very much for this very interesting piece. As with all the interviews in this series, it's both a fascinating and an uncomfortable read, and I'm grateful to you for sharing painful experiences. The references at the bottom look very useful.

A smaller question: with respect to the issue of cards and such, I had been wondering about this separately. Do you have any general suggestions of the sorts of things that a Department could mark in this way, which are non-family-oriented? In some ways, it would be nice if colleagues knew what mattered to each other and marked those events that are personally significant for each person. But not everyone shares a lot about their lives, so maybe this wouldn't work.

What you say here in the last part about Western psychiatry being imported to other contexts reminded me of this, which you have perhaps already seen?

"We had a lot of trouble with western mental health workers who came here immediately after the genocide and we had to ask some of them to leave.

They came and their practice did not involve being outside in the sun where you begin to feel better. There was no music or drumming to get your blood flowing again. There was no sense that everyone had taken the day off so that the entire community could come together to try to lift you up and bring you back to joy. There was no acknowledgement of the depression as something invasive and external that could actually be cast out again.

Instead they would take people one at a time into these dingy little rooms and have them sit around for an hour or so and talk about bad things that had happened to them. We had to ask them to leave."

~A Rwandan talking to a western writer, Andrew Solomon, about his experience with western mental health and depression.

From The Moth podcast, 'Notes on an Exorcism'.
http://themoth.org/posts/stories/notes-on-an-exorcismhttp://themoth.org/stories">http://themoth.org/stories">http://themoth.org/posts/stories/notes-on-an-exorcismhttp://themoth.org/stories

Shelley Tremain

Komarine, thanks for your terrific question about which life events should be marked in order to ensure more hospitable and inclusive workplaces, as well as your provocative question about ethnocentric psychiatric practices.

Since Andrea is on the west coast of North America (i.e., Pacific time), she may not respond for a few hours.

Kevin Timpe

This is another wonderful interview, Shelley. Thanks for putting them all together.

Thanks Andrea, for taking the time to do it, and for opening up to a profession that hasn't treated you well in the past.

I want to ask a few questions, as the interview has me thinking about a number of things since I first read it yesterday. I'm going to number them, and anyone is encouraged to weigh in.

1) I've been on the hiring side of the table at a number of universities, and I don't think I've ever seen someone shortlisted or brought on campus simply for the sake of the kind of quota you suggest. I wonder how widespread the use of such a quota is.

2) As someone who does have a family, and whose professional life and family are very regularly bleeding into each other, the comments about the bias against those without family is really interesting. My department (and uni) often open up events to families, but those without are allowed (even encouraged) to bring someone else if they want. But I'm wondering how you think it's best to know how to talk with others about non-academic things without knowing what the difficult topics are, or what other non-professional topics to discuss. I suspect that most of us naturally default to those things that we're most involved in, and for some of us that's family. For a colleague, it's her horse. (I mean this purely descriptively; I'm not necessarily endorsing the default.)

3) Are you familiar with Eleonore Stump's work on narrative and the value it gives to philosophy?

Your comments about psychological disability are particularly helpful Thank you.

Shelley Tremain

Thanks for the kind remarks about the interviews, Kevin. I'm deeply moved that the disabled philosophers whom I interview trust me to be the conduit of their stories and all that they involve.

Andrea Nicki

Komarine, thanks for your comments. In answer to your question about what a department could recognize through cards, a department could recognize a significant loss/gain/accomplishment that a faculty member shared about. As you say, not everyone shares about important events. But a department could say they want to strengthen community through cards of support and encourage people to share about important personal events. People can be involved in creative projects and have an important event like an art exhibition or a creative writing book launch. Or they may be undergoing training in something non-academic like dance or martial arts and getting certification. Also, people may be very disturbed by the loss of a close friend. I had a colleague who had a close friend who was murdered and she had to take some time off to grieve.

I appreciate the quote you shared about ethnocentric psychiatric practices. I worked in immigrant resource centers in Vancouver for a few years and heard stories from my adult students about psychiatry being imposed on their children. Some children were diagnosed as "autistic" when they were struggling to learn the new culture and language and also were from cultures with different norms related to social interaction and different body language.

Best, Andrea

Andrea Nicki

Kevin, thanks for your thoughts. Here are some responses:

I'm not sure how widespread the use of a quota is or if there are explicit gender quotas. I've been involved in some hiring work and my sense is that some departments strive for gender balance in their short list, especially ones that claim to value diversity.

I appreciate your question about how a department can be inclusive toward those who are not in families raising children and/or who don't have family support. It's very important for departmental managers to promote inclusive community and, if needed, take workshops on how to do this. If departmental managers bully or exclude someone, others in the department are also likely to do so this so as not to lose favour with managers. It can be a challenge to departmental community when there is a lot of faculty married to each other and hired through spousal hirings. I'm not saying here that spousal hirings should never occur, but that managers need to develop and enforce policies which protect the interests of faculty and students alike who can have difficulty navigating relationships with individual faculty members in departmental couples, whose interests are so closely tied. Managers need to direct departmental members to value each other as human beings first and not primarily in terms of rank, awards, accomplishments, or marital status (if married to a high-ranking faculty member). If there is mutual respect in a community, there will be more genuine interest in/curiosity about each other as whole human beings with varied values and life experiences.

You ask how I think people should talk to each other about non-academic things "without knowing what the difficult topics are." I agree it's natural to talk about things that one is most involved in. And there is nothing wrong with that as long as one doesn't impose one's values unto others or assume that others share one's life experiences. People who don't want children can enjoy talking about other people's children as long as there is no insinuation that they should be having children too. And people who have been traumatized by their parents can be empathetic and supportive when someone is seriously grieving the loss of a loving parent as long as there is no assumption that all parent-child relationships are overall positive and valuable. As I claim in my interview, assuming that others have had (overall) positive experiences in families of origin can reflect a very problematic form of bias. When the topic of family background/experience comes up, everyone should feel they have a right to share about their experiences, however negative, and not think "Oh oh, I better think of something pleasant and positive to say so I won't seem uncharitable or ungrateful and will seem like a good fit." People generally appreciate the opportunity to share their life experiences, however negative, in a context of mutual validation and support. This is why, for example, peer-run support groups for survivors of family violence are so popular.

Thanks for the reference to Eleonore Stump. I'm not familiar with her work and looked her up. Her work on the problem of evil seems interesting.

Thanks for the opportunity to think more about these issues.

Best, Andrea

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Kevin Timpe

Andrea,

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions.

If you're interested in Stump's work on narrative, start with her book "Wandering in Darkness," particularly chapters 2-4.

Komarine

Thanks for your response, Andrea.

Something that came into my mind whilst reading your interview was sparked off by what you said about experiencing a rapid train of ideas. Something that has come up for me recently is how to work with a student whose mind works in way that run somewhat counter to some of the norms of our discipline. The person in question has ADHD and needs to think in big picture ways or they lose interest, so the detailed picking over a position that forms the mainstay of at least certain kinds of philosophy doesn't suit their style of thought at all. As someone who is supposed to be advising about their writing and then marking their work, I'm not sure how to approach it. I'm not sure this is exactly a question, as I'm not really expecting you to have an answer. But it struck me as a problematic and - from a detached perspective - interesting connundrum.

Shelley Tremain

Komarine,
Thanks for your comment.

Andrea has gone out of town for the weekend and may not be able to respond until Monday.

Damion Kareem Scott

Dr. Nicki,

Thank you for your insightful interview responses here. I admire so much of your personal narrative. A few quick comments and then two questions: Fanon was a trained psychiatrist, amongst other roles, and in his work and its subsequent development, there seem to be the conceptual and ideological resources to think through the possibility of a type of Global 'Southern' Psychiatry (a 'Third World' Psychiatry in his own idiom). My intuition is that in order to avoid the hazards of historical and structural oppressive aspects of false objectivity in psychiatry that part of the continuing polemical and philosophical project would, as you advocate, involve sensitivity to personal narrative, including the personal narrative of individuals who claim benefit, assistance, help, and empowerment by certain psychiatric practices. I imagine that such sensitivity must entail a recognition of an aspect of psychiatric science (as with any human 'science' or specialized technical knowledge) that is practically global, if not objectively universal. I think that the idea that all psychiatry is 'Western' psychiatry might not quite fair to the non-Western historical sources of contemporary orientations in some kinds of psychiatric practice. So questions 1) As you refer to post-colonial in close relation to the philosophy of psychological disability, have you had much opportunity to engage in Fanon's work on these issues? 2) May I ask your thoughts about the possibility or impossibility of an 'empowering 'Psychiatry' of affirmation of psychological disability or difference? Thank You and please respond only when convenient for you as I know that you must be very busy.

Shelley Tremain

Since there seems to be a lull in the discussion given that Andrea is unavailable at present, I want to take the opportunity to explain an expression that I used in the interview.

In the lead-up to one of my questions to Andrea, I referred to "so-called trigger warnings." This expression might have been taken to suggest that I wanted to ridicule the practices that get classified in that way. No. I aimed rather to suggest my discomfort with the term 'trigger warning' itself. I have been uncomfortable with the term for quite some time now because of the images that it conjures. My sentiment was recently reinforced by someone on my facebook page who noted that the term can itself be a "trigger" for victims of gun violence. I take this assertion seriously and think that a new term or terms should be sought. As I've indicated here before with respect to ableist metaphors, such harmful rhetorical devices could be avoided if authors were to use more descriptive and explanatory expressions rather than take recourse in language whose aim is to conjure vivid images that may be alarming for some people.

Andrea Nicki

Just got back from a plane trip... Thanks for the comments everyone.

In answer to Komarine:

Yes, interesting conundrum. I have also had these kinds of challenges with students. If the student has been diagnosed with ADHD, then they probably experience significant anxiety. Anxiety can interfere with concentration, and thus could be impeding their ability to carefully develop and defend an argument. But it could just be, as you say, that the student has a different style of thought, is stronger in another kind of thinking style. Perhaps the student would be better off majoring in something else, something they can more easily enjoy and excel at. On the other hand, thinking in big picture ways is valued/should be valued more in the more applied areas of philosophy, such as applied ethics, so perhaps the student is in the right place. When I teach applied ethics courses I tell students that they can apply moral theories very systematically and analytically to the issues or more loosely to them, drawing more on research in other disciplines to support their arguments. If the issue is more an anxiety problem, an instructor can take some measures to reduce anxiety, such as having students submit drafts for a small amount of points. I have done this. But beyond that, I wouldn't adjust my marking. A lot of students struggle with significant anxiety (from various sources) which can impede academic performance. Sometimes students need to take time off from school.

Best, Andrea

Andrea Nicki

Damion Kareem Scott,

Thanks for your interesting comments. I read some of Fanon’s work years ago. I would like to revisit his work and will, if time allows. I don’t think psychiatry can be empowering for psychologically disabled people since, by definition, it defines and treats “disorders.” If interested, I would be happy to email you a copy of my essay on BPD; you can email me at anicki@sfu.ca.

Shelley,

Excellent points about the term "trigger warning." I haven't experienced gun-shot violence but always picture a gun when I see this phrase.


Best, Andrea

Julie Maybee

Thanks for another great interview, Shelley and Andrea--and for a terrific discussion as well.

I would like to say that I have seen exactly the situation that Andrea describes in the hiring process. In one place where I worked, we brought three candidates to campus for interviews, including one woman who was also a minority. It became very clear even during her on-campus interview, however, that many members of the department were not taking her seriously as a candidate at all. They started making up reasons for why she was an inferior candidate before she even left. For instance, when she gave a rather technical paper on Kant's philosophy--and the job was a Kant job, after all--instead of commenting on her thorough examination of Kant's philosophy, they started complaining--as I say, even before she had left--about how she was not able to talk to a general audience. When we finally got to the meeting about the candidates, in the very first comment made about any of the candidates, one department member argued that, while he was a big supporter of affirmative action (and he went on about this point at some length), the minority, woman candidate was obviously "unacceptable." A few of us (all of the women and the one minority in the department) complained to the Dean that the candidate had never been taken seriously by the department--which drew its own backlash--but, because we could not get one of the white guys in the department to support us (one later apologized for not supporting us), we were dismissed as "biased"--at least that's my theory for why our complaint was dismissed.

Andrea, your discussion of "dominant speech norms" also reminded me of an experience I had at a conference about philosophy and race/racism at Morgan State University. I was on a panel (of all white women, by the way, which says something too) and, after all the papers were over, a young, black man raised his hand, stood up, and said he had a question for me. Then he began making his point by delivering a fantastic, rhythmically and poetically/metaphorically sophisticated rap--with rhyming as well. I sat there panicking because I knew there was no way I could respond to the young man in a way that would properly honor his form of speech, as I am completely incapable of that sort of speech. He let me off the hook by ending his presentation with a question in standard prose. I complimented his skill, and answered his question in my usual, boring, prose style. That incident has always made me think a lot, however, about dominant speech norms--and about the inferiority of my own speech skills in many ways.

Thanks again, Shelley and Andrea!

Andrea Nicki

Julie, thanks for sharing. I really appreciate your comments. I like the thought of "properly honouring another's form of speech."

Best, Andrea

Steph

Thank you for this insightful piece. A small comment re alternatives for 'trigger warning': parts of the feminist blogosphere seem to have settled on 'content warning', for just the reasons you note (and I have taken to using it in my own teaching). Is there any reason not to adopt it?

Shelley Tremain

Thanks for your comment, Steph. I have seen the term 'content warning' used. I think it's a good alternative to the term 'trigger warning.' I hope that its use becomes a more common practice.

I'm glad you liked the interview that I did with Andrea Nicki.

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