, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 240–261 | Cite as

Therapeutic governmentality and biopower in a Canadian mental health court

  • Anne Nordberg
Original Article


Mental health courts (MHCs) are a response to the structural violence experienced by people with severe mental illness (SMI) involved in the criminal justice system. My ethnographic research of an MHC in urban Canada serves as the foundation for a discussion of court processes that are an example of biopower. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate how strategies for intervention in the name of life and health, truth discourses and forms of self-governance operate among criminal justice-involved individuals with SMI. This study reveals the tensions between the intense forensic gaze and invisibility and between treatment strategies that are beneficial for some people with SMI yet ultimately coercive and oppressive. The governance of this population is discussed, as well as what happens to people who fail or refuse to self-govern as the court compels them.


biopower governmentality mental health court structural violence invisibility people with severe mental illness 



The author confirms that the study on which the research is based has been subject to appropriate ethical review. She has no competing interests – intellectual or financial – in the research detailed in the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© The London School of Economics and Political Science 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anne Nordberg
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Social Work, The University of Texas at ArlingtonArlingtonUSA

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