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Teaching with madness/‘mental illness’ autobiographies in postsecondary education: ethical and epistemological implications


This paper presents a critical interpretive synthesis of 53 articles describing the pedagogical use of madness/‘mental illness’ autobiographical narratives in postsecondary education. Focusing on instructor intentions and representations of student learning outcomes, findings indicate that narratives are most commonly used as ‘learning material’ to engage students in active learning, cultivate students’ empathy, complement dominant academic/professional knowledges, illustrate abstract concepts and provide ‘real’-life connections to course content. This paper contributes to a conversation across the intellectual traditions of Mad studies, medical humanities, educational research, stigma reduction and service user involvement to interrogate pedagogical uses of autobiographical narratives that remain in uncritical educational terms rather than as a matter of justice for Mad communities. While teaching with narratives will not inevitably result in social justice outcomes, thoughtful engagement with the ethical and epistemological considerations raised throughout this review may increase this possibility by shifting when, why and how we teach with autobiography.

  • education
  • medical humanities
  • patient narratives
  • mental health care

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