‘Mad Bodies as Spectacles of Otherness’ Working Session,

Chandler, Clare and Grinenko, Aleksei (2017) ‘Mad Bodies as Spectacles of Otherness’ Working Session,. In: American Society for Theatre Research Annual Conference, November 2017, Atlanta.

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Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Other)
Item Status:Live Archive


The study of madness has been integral to a number of academic fields concerned with embodied difference. From reappraisals of hysteria in the 1980s to the current emphasis on mental disability, theater and performance scholars writing about representations of mental have theorized and historicized the mad body onstage as a form of gender, sexuality, race, and class-differentiated otherness. This session aims to encourage and facilitate ongoing and nascent research projects in the field of scholarship on madness and promote a constructive dialogue among different related disciplines and intellectual traditions, including feminism, gender/sexuality studies, race theory, psychoanalysis, ethnography of mental health, history of the psych fields, early modern studies, opera studies, musicology, musical theatre, modernist studies. Responding to the conference theme, we position mad corporeality in performance under the suggested rubric of disabled, grotesque, socially deviant and/or morally excluded bodies and draw attention to the continued need for rigorous scholarly investigations into this complex phenomenon, historically marked as Other. In addition to being a term of radical difference, madness enables inquiries into pre- or non-psychiatric forms of mental distress, opening up the space for engaging with multiple historical and geographical contexts. By framing our central subject as “mad” bodies, we call attention to the voices and lived experience of people associated with the global Mad Pride movement, as they campaign for their right to live outside or on the borders of psychiatric norms and definitions. However, we are equally interested in interventions that push back against Foucauldian academic paradigms for madness and reclaim or reappraise the value of medical formulations like “mental illness.” Our hope is to promote an inclusive conversation about madness as a historically and geographically variable object of conceptualization and aestheticization.

While our working session pursues the study of mad corporeality in performance, we are also concerned with re-appraising the methodological utility and ethical impact of historiographic and theoretical approaches dominated by tropes of a mad “otherness.” Following the work of madness scholars like Carol Thomas Neely, who has thrown into question “the durable analogy between Bethlem Hospital and the stage as comparable spectacles,” we are concerned with the implications of what she defines as the historical rise of “lunacy” as “’trade’ for academics.” Thus, we hope to interrogate our own methodological biases, as we consider the investment of madness studies and disability studies in the notions of “a romanticized universal madness” and “a specularized excluded madness.”

Keywords:Madness, Drama, Musical Theatre, Cultural Performance, Mental Health
Subjects:L Social studies > L990 Social studies not elsewhere classified
L Social studies > L340 Disability in Society
Divisions:College of Arts > Lincoln School of Creative Arts > Lincoln School of Creative Arts (Performing Arts)
ID Code:52155
Deposited On:20 Oct 2022 13:31

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