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A comprehensive approach to “attitudes towards contingency” in liberal-individualistic societies : the case of mental health problems hindering autonomy


"This project deals with ""attitudes towards contingency"" - ATC - (i.e. ways of making life going on after a crisis, ways of coping with misfortune, injustice, evil, etc. on the symbolic and operative levels) that are specific to liberal- individualistic societies, within which unprecedented emphasis is put on autonomy and the capacity to rely on oneself (in particular : helping oneself, being oneself and being correctly emotionally affected, which are the three main criteria often mobilized to assess what an autonomous behaviour is).
While striving to meet a general theoretical target (an analytical frame to study ATC), the project addresses the particular contingency mental health illnesses and distress are. Following A. Ehrenberg, we formulate the hypothesis that mental health constitutes nowadays the language through which we explain the problems of evil, injustice and misfortune. The research will investigate, in a comparative perspective (Belgium-France), how mentally diseased/distressed people who resort to new kinds of treatment aiming at enhancing personal autonomy (i.a. capacitation, empowerment, psychosocial rehabilitation, etc, all of them drawing on the self-help movement), show different ATC. In particular, the project will describe the language games people use to talk about their mental illness/distress, its origin, the way they feel incapacitated and, above all, about the way they try to cope with it in their everyday life. The stance of the project is not only descriptive and pragmatic, which allows understanding the way mentally diseased/distressed people get through and give sense to their problems by resorting to cultural resources; it is also critical and reflexive, so as to enlighten the normative and evaluative dimension of the collective representations around “autonomy”.
This project will be developed at the first-class research center CERMES3, hosted at the Université Paris-Descartes, under Prof. A. Ehrenberg's direction."

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Université Paris Descartes
Rue De L'ecole De Médecine
75270 cedex 06 Paris

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Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Administrative Contact
Rosaly Datchi (Dr.)
EU contribution
€ 202 405,80