Tactical authenticity in the production of autoethnographic mad narratives

Clarke, Simon and Wright, Colin (2020). Tactical authenticity in the production of autoethnographic mad narratives. Social Theory & Health, 18 pp. 169–183.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/s41285-019-00092-2


First-person accounts of madness and of encountering psychiatric services provide important sociocultural and psychological knowledge about the subjectivity of distress. The importance of such accounts is often based upon a claim of the authenticity of personal experience. However, authenticity is a highly heterogeneous concept: a popular current manifestation of the discourse of authenticity is in positive psychology, where it is often underpinned by humanist assumptions such as the rational autonomous self. The post-structuralist critique of humanism challenged such essentialist notions some time ago and has been adopted explicitly by research methodologies such as autoethnography. The purpose of this article is to argue that this tension—between the value of methods such as autoethnography that offer a legitimate source of knowledge regarding the subjective experience of madness on the one hand, and the problems with an essentialist conception of the ‘authentic’ self on the other—can be addressed by the deployment of a reconceptualised form of authenticity based on Spivak’s (in: Guha and Spivak (eds.) Selected subaltern studies, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1988) notion of ‘strategic essentialism’, especially when modified by De Certeau’s (The practice of everyday life, University of California Press, Los Angeles, 1984) distinction between ‘tactics’ and ‘strategies’. The implications of this distinction in terms of developing autoethnographies of distress are then discussed.

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