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Madness, Disorder, and Society

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Madness, Disorder, and Society

International Graduate Conference in Philosophy 2016

Keynote speakers
Dr Lorna Finlayson University of Essex

Professor Derek Bolton, Kings College London

About the conference

We are pleased to announce that the theme for this year's Essex International Graduate Conference in Philosophy will be 'Madness, Disorder and Society'. The conference seeks to bring together different philosophical perspectives on madness and disorder, especially when considered in their social contexts. It will be held on 7 May 2016, and keynote addresses will be given by Derek Bolton (Kings College London) and Lorna Finlayson (University of Essex).

The mad have always challenged society. Beginning in the 1960s however, the anti-psychiatry movement began to systematically confront psychiatric institutions and their wider social contexts by raising what were essentially philosophical questions. This movement challenged the validity of psychiatric diagnosis, the purported boundaries between the sane and the insane, and the very idea of mental illness.

In turn, psychiatry hit back, adopting a biomedical, evidence-based approach and an ever-increasing standardisation of psychiatric classifications. This has given rise to a new paradigm regarding how we understand the mad and the disordered, and today there are now more psychiatric classifications than ever before.

Nonetheless, in more recent years the neurodiversity movement has called for a full affirmation of a wide array of natural variance in human functioning. This more radical move challenges deeper assumptions regarding both what it means to be human, and in turn to function or flourish as such, in a way that may undermine even the biomedical approach designed to avoid these very issues.

From a more top-down perspective, further questions arise. Most notably, if we are mistaken in some way, about the pathological status of the mad and disordered, this further calls into question the status of those considered normal. From Nietzsche to critical theory, thinkers have suggested that it may in fact be that society is sick, and that at least some of those who fall outside its norms may have good reason to do so.

Lastly, on the ground level, an ever-increasing number of dangerous designer drugs and bizarre therapies are now produced and sold in order to restore those on the outskirts back to the realm of normalcy. This raises yet further ethical questions regarding both the treatment of those considered mad or disordered, and in turn the institutions that profit from them.


Registration is free. To register please email with the subject “MDS Registration”. Please include your name, email address, and institution (if applicable). If you wish to attend the meal, this costs extra as it is at a nearby restaurant. Please say if you want us to book you a place.

Location and accessibility

The conference takes place at our University's Colchester Campus. Colchester is an hour away from London by train.