Madness, Power and the Media: Class, Gender and Race in by Stephen Harper (auth.)

By Stephen Harper (auth.)

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Extra info for Madness, Power and the Media: Class, Gender and Race in Popular Representations of Mental Distress

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These quantitative studies, I shall argue in Chapter 2, have been extremely useful and influential, although I also suggest that they also suffer from some of the common limitations of content analysis; in particular, a certain tendency towards the decontextualisation of content. My 28 Madness, Power and the Media own approach is qualitative, combining textual analysis with historical contextualisation and social theory to produce detailed, if not exhaustive, readings of the texts. Moreover, while repeated, fleeting images of mental distress may cumulatively exercise considerable cultural force, exigencies of space preclude discussion of every text that briefly depicts or mentions mental distress.

2005) and not all cultures and languages even have a conception of the ‘mental’. The adjective ‘mental’ presupposes certain distinctions, including the Cartesian bifurcation of mind and body, which are specific to post-Enlightenment Western culture. For example, Fenton and SadiqSangster’s (1996) research on the expression of mental distress among South Asian women in Britain indicates that while a range of terms is used to describe psychiatrically recognisable experiences (‘thinking illness’, ‘falling heart’), the terms ‘mind’ and ‘mental’ are never used, suggesting a somatic, rather than a mentalistic, conception of madness.

In the case of film and television texts, for example, the briefest glance as Internet discussion boards shows that audiences often are able to negotiate representations of distress with considerable sophistication. For example, a discussion forum of the Digital Spy website devoted to the BBC1 soap opera EastEnders contains a lengthy exchange about the bipolar condition of the character Jean Slater, in which participants discuss diagnoses, make comparisons with their personal experiences with sufferers of mental distress and even anticipate how the narrative will progress (‘I bet she becomes ill again’).

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