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    Ontological insecurity and psychic suffering: a contrapuntal reading of R. D. Laing’s theory [1960 –1970] in the neoliberal landscape

    Oakes, Matthew Bretton (2021) Ontological insecurity and psychic suffering: a contrapuntal reading of R. D. Laing’s theory [1960 –1970] in the neoliberal landscape. PhD thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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    We live in a time in which ‘mental health’ problems have been described as the ‘epidemic’ of gravest concern. The incidence of ‘mental health’ problems is increasing year-on-year, yet we remain fixed on one course of action with a psychopharmacology trajectory of understanding and treatment; this being the basis of our psychiatric system and the default medical encounter, it too readily insists upon all forms of psychic suffering being reduced to chemical imbalances within the brain. It is against this backdrop that I introduce the potential and necessity for a return to the theory of R.D. Laing. Laing was a psychiatrist whose most prominent mark was made in the 1960s. With an unwavering commitment to establish more humane treatment for those diagnosed ‘schizophrenic’, he developed a philosophical method of enquiry grounded in existential-phenomenology. Through this methodological lens, Laing argued that ‘intelligibility’ of experience could be revealed within even the most psychotic of patients. It is only with intelligibility that a true knowledge of persons can be gained, and help given. Laing provides us with a theory to challenge the all-compassing dominance that psychiatry wields upon the self, allowing us to consider how psychiatric discourse affects society beyond diagnosis, and think differently about what constitutes ‘mental illness’ and diagnosis. This thesis clarifies and develops Laing’s theory from 1960 to 1970, offering a contrasting reading to the modular format frequently represented within secondary sources and producing instead a unified framework. Emphasising and reworking the concept of ‘ontological insecurity’ as a logical, but painful, existential response to dysfunctional interpersonal dynamics within our worldly immersion. Supported further by his lesser appreciated concept of ‘self-consciousness’, a political application is developed that highlights the potential value of Laing’s theory as a means of understanding our current ‘mental health’ situation. In the process of conducting this re-evaluation, scientism is drawn into focus. Extending beyond the clinical encounter and placed within the interpersonal dynamics of everyday existence, it is proposed that western culture is increasingly allowing itself to be defined within a scientific paradigm that incurs a collective existential degradation. This is a significant source for ontological insecurity and thus contributes to the experience of psychic suffering.


    Item Type: Thesis
    Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
    Depositing User: Acquisitions And Metadata
    Date Deposited: 07 Dec 2021 12:29
    Last Modified: 01 Nov 2023 15:09


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