Time to Panic? Producing Dis-ease in Epidemic Proportions

SOCIAL SCIENCE FORUM
Wednesday 13th January 2016 by China Mills
Room E424, Checkland Building, Falmer Campus

The World Health Organisation tells us that mental disorders constitute a global epidemic, a huge worldwide burden of disease, and an obstacle to individual, national and economic development. Here the logic of epidemiology is applied to mental disorders, which although not infectious are said to spread. This enmeshes us within a discourse of crisis, where acting with urgency (fast and cheaply) becomes framed as the only ethical response, especially in countries of the global South. This paper will explore how crisis discourse creates a space where the global disease (anxiety, insecurity, stress) endemic to the reality of global capitalism (insecure or dangerous work, unemployment, retrenched or non-existent welfare, poverty and inequality etc) is (re)configured as individual disease – mental disorder – projected globally through epidemiological tools. Rather than seeing mental disorder as an obstacle to economic development, this paper will explore how the production of distress is an integral component to economic development (in its neoliberal forms). The framing of this disease as mental disorder (situated in the brain and not in the economic body) not only obscures socio-economic sources of distress but, furthermore, creates global markets out of epidemics, from the very disorders it constructs as burdens.

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