Tactical authenticity in the production of autoethnographic mad narratives

  • Simon P. ClarkeEmail author
  • Colin Wright
Original Article


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.


Authenticity Madness Autoethnography Narratives Positive psychology 



  1. Adorno, T.W. 1973. Negative dialectics (trans: Ashton, E.B.). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  2. Adorno, T.W. 2003. The jargon of authenticity. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Atkinson, P.A. 2009. Illness narratives revisited: The failure of narrative reductionism. Sociological Research Online. Scholar
  4. Atkinson, P.A. 2013. Ethnographic writing, the avant-garde and a failure of nerve. International Review of Qualitative Research 6 (1): 19–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Baker, C., P. Crawford, B.J. Brown, M. Lipsedge, and R. Carter. 2010. Madness in post-1945 British and American Fiction. London: Palgrave.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Beresford, P. 2007. The role of service user research in generating knowledge-based health and social care: From conflict to contribution. Evidence & Policy 3 (3): 329–341.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bochner, A. 2001. Narrative’s virtues. Qualitative Inquiry 7 (2): 131–157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Burstowe, B. 2015. A rose by any other name. In Mad matters, ed. B.A. LeFrançois, R. Menzies, and G. Reaume, 79–90. Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press.Google Scholar
  9. Cederström, C., and A. Spicer. 2009. The wellness syndrome. London: Polity.Google Scholar
  10. Clarke, S.P. 2018. Madhouse and the whole thing there. Qualitative Research in Psychology. Scholar
  11. Danius, S., S. Jonsson, and G.C. Spivak. 1993. An interview with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Boundary 2 20 (2): 24–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Davies, W. 2016. The happiness industry: How the government and big business sold us well-being. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  13. Davis, W.E., J.A. Hicks, R.J. Schlegel, C.M. Smith, and M. Vess. 2015. Authenticity and self-esteem across temporal horizons. The Journal of Positive Psychology 10 (2): 116–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. De Certeau, M. 1984. The practice of everyday life (trans: Rendall, Steven). Los Angeles: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  15. Derrida, J. 1972. The ends of man, margins of philosophy (trans: Bass, A.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982.Google Scholar
  16. Derrida, J. (1976) Of Grammatology (trans. G.C. Spivak). Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Ellis, C. 2004. The ethnographic I: A methodological novel about autoethnography. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.Google Scholar
  18. Ellis, C., and A.P. Bochner. 2006. Analyzing analytic autoethnography: An autopsy. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 35 (4): 429–449.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Faulkner, A. 2017. Survivor research and Mad Studies: The role and value of experiential knowledge in mental health research. Disability & Society 32 (4): 500–520.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Ferrara, A. 2009. Authenticity without a true self. In Authenticity in culture, self, and society, ed. P. Vannini and J.P. Williams, 21–36. Farnham, UK: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  21. Grant, A., N.P. Short, and L. Turner. 2013. Introduction: Storying life and lives. In Contemporary British autoethnography, ed. N.P. Short, L. Turner, and A. Grant, 1–16. Rotterdam, NL: Sense Publishers.Google Scholar
  22. Greenberg, J. 1964. I never promised you a rose garden. New York: Holt.Google Scholar
  23. Harter, S. 2005. Authenticity. In Handbook of positive psychology, ed. C.R. Snyder, 382–394. Cary, NC: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Heidegger, M. 1998. Being and time (trans: Macquarrie, J. and Robinson, E.). Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  25. Hornstein, G.A. 2008. Bibliography of first-person narratives of madness in English Accessed 6 July 2016.
  26. Joseph, S. 2015. Positive therapy: Building bridges between positive psychology and person-centred psychotherapy. Hove: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kaufmann, W. 1975. Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre. New York: New American Library.Google Scholar
  28. Laing, R.D. 1960. The divided self. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
  29. Landry, D., and G. Maclean (eds.). 1996. The Spivak Reader. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  30. Lenton, A.P., M. Bruder, L. Slabu, and C. Sedikides. 2013a. How does “being real” feel? The experience of state authenticity. Journal of Personality 81 (3): 276–289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lenton, A.P., L. Slabu, C. Sedikides, and K. Power. 2013b. I feel good, therefore I am real: Testing the causal influence of mood on state authenticity. Cognition and Emotion 27 (7): 1202–1224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Medlock, G. 2012. The evolving ethic of authenticity: From humanistic to positive psychology. The Humanistic Psychologist 40 (1): 38–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Miller, G. 2017. Madness decolonized? Madness as transnational identity in Gail Hornstein’s ‘Agnes’s Jacket’. Journal of Medical Humanities. Scholar
  34. Parker, I. 2007. Revolution in psychology: Alienation to emancipation. London: Pluto Press.Google Scholar
  35. Rambo, C. 2013. Twitch: A performance of chronic liminality. In Handbook of autoethnography, ed. S.H. Jones, T.E. Adams, and C. Ellis, 627–638. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.Google Scholar
  36. Rogers, C.R. 1961. On becoming a person: A therapist’s view of psychotherapy. New York: Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar
  37. Rose, D. 2008. Madness strikes back. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology 18 (6): 638–644.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Rose, D. 2015. The contemporary state of service-user-led research. The Lancet Psychiatry 2 (11): 959–960.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Rose, D., T. Wykes, M. Leese, J. Bindman, and P. Fleischmann. 2003. Patients’ perspectives on electroconvulsive therapy: systematic review. British Medical Journal 326 (7403): 1363–1368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Russo, J. 2016. In dialogue with conventional narrative research in psychiatry and mental health. Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology 23 (3): 215–228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Saks, E. 2007. The center cannot hold: My journey through madness. London: Virago.Google Scholar
  42. Sartre, J.-P. 1948. Existentialism and humanism (trans: Mairet, P.). London: Methuen.Google Scholar
  43. Sartre, J.-P. 2003. Being and nothingness: An essay on philosophical ontology. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  44. Schreber, D.P. 1903. Memoirs of my nervous illness. New York: New York Review of Books, 2000.Google Scholar
  45. Seligman, M.E.P. 2002a. Positive psychology, positive prevention, and positive therapy. In Handbook of positive psychology, ed. C.R. Snyder and S.J. Lopez, 3–9. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  46. Seligman, M.E.P. 2002b. Authentic happiness. New York, NY: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  47. Seligman, M.E.P., and M. Csikszentmihalyi. 2000. Positive psychology. American Psychologist 55 (1): 5–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Snyder, C.R., and S.J. Lopez. 2006. Positive psychology: A scientific and practical exploration of human strengths. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  49. Spivak, G.C. 1988. Subaltern studies. In Selected subaltern studies, ed. R. Guha and G.C. Spivak, 3–32. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  50. Spivak, G.C. 1990. The post-colonial critic. In The postcolonial critic: Interviews, strategies, dialogues, ed. S. Harasym. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  51. Starkman, M. 2015. The movement. In Mad matters, ed. B.A. LeFrançois, R. Menzies, and G. Reaume, 27–37. Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press.Google Scholar
  52. Stone, B. 2004. Towards a writing without power: Notes on the narration of madness. Auto/Biography 12 (1): 16–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Taylor, C. 1991. The ethics of authenticity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  54. Trilling, L. 1972. Sincerity and authenticity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  55. Vannini, P., and J.P. Williams. 2009. Authenticity in culture, self, and society. In Authenticity in culture, self, and society, ed. P. Vannini and J.P. Williams, 1–20. Farnham, UK: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  56. Voronka, J. 2016. The politics of ‘people with lived experience’: Experiential authority and the risks of strategic essentialism. Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology 23 (3): 189–201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Webb, D. 2010. Thinking about suicide: Contemplating and comprehending the urge to die. Ross-on-Wye: PCCS Books.Google Scholar
  58. Wood, A.M., A.P. Linley, J. Maltby, M. Baliousis, and S. Joseph. 2008. The authentic personality: A theoretical and empirical conceptualization and the development of the authenticity scale. Journal of Counseling Psychology 55 (3): 385–399.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Woods, A. 2012. Rethinking “patient testimony” in the medical humanities: The case of Schizophrenia Bulletin’s First Person Accounts. Journal of Literature and Science 6 (1): 38–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Wright, C. 2002. Centrifugal logics: Eagleton and Spivak on the place of ‘place’ in postcolonial theory. Culture, Theory and Critique 43 (1): 67–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Wright, C. 2013. Against flourishing: Wellbeing as biopolitics, and the psychoanalytic alternative. Health, Culture and Society 5 (1): 20–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Wright, C. 2014. Happiness studies and wellbeing: A Lacanian critique of contemporary conceptualisations of the cure. Culture Unbound 6 (4): 791–813.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Limited 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of EducationUniversity of NottinghamNottinghamUK
  2. 2.Department of Culture, Film & MediaUniversity of NottinghamNottinghamUK
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyNottingham Trent UniversityNottinghamUK

Personalised recommendations