Memory and the Instituting Social Imaginary

Philosophy, Psychiatry, and Psychology 29 (4):241-242 (2022)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Memory and the Instituting Social ImaginaryNancy Nyquist Potter*, PhD (bio)Emily Walsh's Article on the way that colonialism is perpetuated in psychiatry through dominant collective memory is simultaneously exciting and challenging, and merits active engagement toward making changes (Walsh, 2022). This presents a challenge to clinicians to address entrenched, often subconscious, ways of being with and helping racialized people with historical memories and current experiences.Such changes are necessary in that dominant collective memory is contributory to mental illness, as Walsh writes. It also contributes to what Walsh calls a traumatic loop, whichinvolves feeling unwell due to racist abuse or the effects racialization has on the psyche, then being unable to voice these concerns to the practitioners who desire to help you. Not having the opportunity to voice these concerns can make patients feel as though these memories are not important, thereby invalidating their own negative experiences of racialization.(Walsh, 2022, p. 232)For these reasons, it is crucial that psychiatrists fully understand the harm they can do by reproducing dominant collective memories and work to change this in themselves and in the institutional systems in which they see patients/service users.I focus on one question briefly and then turn to the heart of active engagement.The question concerns what the content of dominant collective memory is and how it might play out in a particular interaction in psychiatry. This is important for clinicians who want to learn what sorts of changes need to be made in order not to continue to enact colonialism and to avoid doing harm. Walsh does a fine job setting out forms of memory and how Fanon (and she) suggest that clinicians can assist patients toward liberation from dominant collective memory. Yet I am left with uncertainty about what sorts of dominant memory serve to deny the violence in the colonized. A bit of filling out on this idea would help the motivated to move toward change.A pressing question is how to facilitate such changes. Both the limitations and the possibilities of the social imaginary can help us understand why change is so difficult and yet how it nevertheless is possible and, in fact, necessary. The social imaginary, as Code explains it, "refers to implicit but effective systems" of values, meanings, interpretations of reality, norms for living, what counts as knowing and who can be knowers, that are found in a social-political order in ways that shape our sense of self, our ways of relating to others, our responsibilities, and a sense of place (Code, 2008, pp. 31–32). The instituted social imaginary, then, tells us what sorts of persons we should be and [End Page 241] how we should see and treat others. It shapes memories and limits which memories—and whose memories—get acknowledged and which ones and whose memories are erased or ignored. It is difficult to see for what it is because it is implicit and assumed to be fixed and natural. However, this is the instituted social imaginary, where the content of the imaginary is taken as given and is naturalized. It trades in stereotypes of Black and Indigenous and other people of color as well as stereotypes of queers, people living with disabilities, the homeless, and others. It is harmful in that it perpetuates those stereotypes, controls patients/ service users, negates their own personal and community identities, and erases episodic memory. It is difficult to change because it is entrenched and often not questioned. Nevertheless, the instituted social imaginary is not totalizing. There is hope, and energy, and excitement to be found in active engagement with an instituting social imaginary. Here, we find people and communities working to critique the given, the naturalized, and even ourselves: "Imaginatively initiated counterpossibilities interrogate the social structure to destabilize its pretensions to naturalness and wholeness, to initiate a new making" (Code, 2008, pp. 34–35). In the final section, I begin to fill out these moves in relation to Walsh's work on memory and psychiatry.Clinicians are trained to be good listeners, and many of them already practice good listening skills in interacting with their patients/service users. However, many patients' experiences...



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Nancy Potter
University of Louisville

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