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Naming the Discrimination of the “Psyche”: Confronting Psychism with Mad and Deconstructive Perspectives

28. Oktober 2021 , 17:00 19:00

Sonja Lauff @ “Confronting Discrimination. Phenomenological and Genealogical
Perspectives. International Symposium”
Registration by October 25th: or via email:
Information and full program:
Recognising and confronting discrimination and oppression can be very difficult even if knowledge
regarding the different categorisations of targets, e.g. by race, gender, or age, is available. But what if
the categorisation remains invisible? What if there is not even a term to name the oppression?
People are discriminated against because of their psychic suffering and / or non-normative perception,
feeling, thinking and behavior. They are facing an individualisation of their experiences of oppression
without any words at their disposal to name social and systemic injustice.
To make this form of oppression recognisable, I have developed the notion of psychism (Lauff 2020).
Psychism encompasses the idea of the existence of a “psyche” and its division into “normal / healthy”
and “abnormal / sick”, as well as the devaluation and oppression of those suffering, regarded as
mentally ill, or not meeting psy-norms in various ways. Thus, “psyche” becomes another mode of
categorisation of targets of oppression.
I will present selected aspects of my current project, which aims to theoretically define the
conceptualisation of psychism, particularly focusing on which theoretical arguments of different
related advocatory groups (such as mad, neurodivergent or mental health advocacy) might support
and will be supported by the notion of psychism.
To analyse different positions in the new field of inquiry, the in/discipline Mad Studies (LeFrançois et
al. 2013; Ingram 2016) and related theoretical approaches, I am using two theoretical perspectives:
First, I will draw on the theory of trilemmatic inclusion (Boger 2019) to analyse the ambivalences of
politically dealing with psychism. Second, I will work out congruences, as well as incongruences,
between psychism and sexism/genderism utilising a Butlerian deconstructive perspective (Butler
Often, what is seen as a manifestation of the “psyche” can be a direct result of the pain and suffering
caused by violence or discrimination in the first place. Thus, discrimination because of “psyche” can be
viewed as “secondary discrimination”, and theoretically thinking through psychism will help to
broaden the understanding of discriminatory and oppressive mechanisms in general. Just as Butler’s
question, whether “the norm, having become psychic, involve[s; S.L.] not only the interiorization of
the norm, but the interiorization of the psyche” (Butler 1997: 19), opens ways to critically look onto
the “psyche” and its relationship with oppressive norms.
Boger, Mai-Anh (2019): Theorien der Inklusion. Die Theorie der trilemmatischen Inklusion zum Mitdenken.
Münster: edition assemblage
Butler, Judith (2019[1991]): Das Unbehagen der Geschlechter. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp
Butler, Judith (1997): The Psychic Life of Power. Theories in Subjection. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Ingram, Richard (2016): Doing Mad Studies: Making (Non)sense Together. In: Intersectionalities: A Global Journal
of Social Work Analysis, Research, Polity, and Practice. Special Issue: Mad Studies: Intersections with
Disability Studies, Social Work, and ‘Mental Health’ 5, 3, S. 11-17
Lauff, Sonja (2020): Die gemiedene Kategorie der Psyche in der intersektionalen Diskriminierungskritik.
Psychismus als Diskriminierungsform denken wagen. In: Hahmann, Julia et. al. (Hrsg.):
Geschlechterforschung in und zwischen den Disziplinen: Gender in Soziologie, Ökonomie und Bildung.
Leverkusen: Verlag Barbara Budrich, S. 63-79
LeFrançois, Brenda A., Robert Menzies, und Geoffrey Reaume (Hrsg.) (2013): Mad Matters: A Critical Reader in
Canadian Mad Studies. Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press Inc

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