UCL Anthropology


The Subjectivity of the Body in Mental Health: An Anthropological Workshop

10:00 am, 28 May 2015 to 4:00 pm, 29 May 2015

Subjectivity and Mental Health

Event Information

Open to



Daryll Forde Seminar Room, UCL Anthropology, 14 Taviton Street, London, WC1H 0BW

In recent years there has been a lot of debate about subjectivities and mental health. The forming of the self through techniques has subsequently given new angles on research of the formation of selves through bodily and mental practices. Some of those studies, however, tend towards a hidden essentialism - body and mind as the instruments that are used to act upon an assumed self. On the other side of the spectrum, studies of subjectivity assume that the subject is ephemeral, immaterial, a thing of the law, language or the mind alone. If we do not challenge this assumption, we might easily fall into the trap Foucault cautioned against when he called the soul a prison of the body.

This workshop aims at addressing these dangers in their material and communal dimensions. What can mental health, consciousness and current research on the body tell us about the formations of who we are historically and anthropologically? Considering, for instance, the ambiguity in speaking of someone as 'having nerves' - implying mental illness as much as an anatomical description (Davis and Low 1989, Van Schaik 1989) - how are different bodies constituted in mental health? How and when are they material? When are they embodied and 'enminded' (cf. Brandt 2010)? Anthropology as an academic field by and large denies a simple Cartesian divide between body and mind. The carving up of experience as bodily and/or mental, however, remains to be studied.

Throughout this workshop, we will invite a discussion about these issues through focusing on a variety of topics that will inform the question of the role of the body in subjectivity and mental health at large. We will begin with a panel titled Disability; a broad opening that will question how subjectivities are negotiated in relation to society's physical and mental standards. Our second panel, Sexuality, will present research that exposes the delicate and intricate ways in which body and mind inform each other in the formation of 'subjectivity', taking sexuality as an exemplary form. Our third and final panel, Consciousness and Cure, will have a closer look on 'conscious' practices and their physico-mental effects. Overall, these three panels will weave together theoretical, practical, and ethnographic contributions, encouraging a more holistic understanding of the role of subjectivity in mental health.

All welcome to attend and contribute. The conference will be concluded with a Roundtable discussion for everyone to speak and debate. Could anyone planning to attend please register on Eventbrite.