Reflections on recent conferences

On April 11-14, SOAS University hosted the annual meeting of the Association of Social Anthropologists (ASA) in the UK. The conference, titled ‘An Unwell World? Anthropology in a Speculative Mode’, provided a space for anthropologists to engage with changes and new awarenesses emerging from the pandemic.

Members of the APOD team contributed their insights to the conference’s discussion of illness and health in an uncertain present. Here, Liana reflects on her experience convening a panel and presenting her paper, ‘‘It’s just human’: rethinking care through the open dialogue psychiatric revolution’:

‘It was a pleasure to be involved in convening two panels with other members of the APOD team this Spring. Our ASA panel “The Human Social in Psychiatric Practice” (co-convened by with David Mosse) brought together eight ethnographers of mental healthcare with an interest in attempts to harness the therapeutic benefits of human sociality in clinical practice. These papers looked at a range of clinical settings and treatment models, including peer support groups, inpatient treatments, and community mental health services.

My own paper focused on representations of POD as a more “human” alternative to treatment as usual, unpacking what this might tell us both about the state of mental health services in the UK and about contemporary imaginings of the “human.”

Soon after, Keira Pratt-Boydon and I co-convened a panel at the Society for Psychological Anthropology Biennal Conference in San Diego entitled “Mental Illness in Practice: Decentering Psychiatry Through Emerging Modes of Care.” This panel drew together 6 contributions looking at innovative approaches to mental health support emerging in different sites around the world, including Ghana, India, Nepal, and the UK.

My own paper (coauthored with David Mosse) explored some of the challenges of upholding the POD principle of “tolerating uncertainty” in clinical practice in the NHS.   We were fortunate to have as a panel discussant Dr Ippolytos Kalafonos (MD/PhD), an esteemed researcher, psychiatrist, and Open Dialogue practitioner. The panel was very well attended and a rich conversation on critical psychiatry ensued.’

Through conferences in the UK and across the world, our team is sharing the outcomes of years of fieldwork exploring Open Dialogue practice across NHS sites. Presenting at these conferences has reinforced the relevance of this study to wider fields of social and psychological anthropology, and has brought us together with other researches shedding light on the social aspects of mental health.

More reflections to come!

Image credit: