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Testimony of Experience: Docta Ignorantia and the Philadelphia Association Communities

Testimony of Experience: Docta Ignorantia and the Philadelphia Association Communities

Bruce Scott

ISBN 9781 906254 64 3

Cover Price £22.00

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Article by Bruce Scott published in Common Space. '...austerity causes distress, but please do not call it exacerbating existing 'mental illness'. Read full article here

In this book Bruce Scott presents one of the very few pieces of research carried out with people who have been residents of the Philadelphia Association, set up in the 1960's by R.D.Laing and colleagues.

Today, there are few places left for people to escape our modern plight; the cognitive and neuroscientific imperialistic discourse of mental distress. Testimony of Experience is an attempt to transcend this oppressive discourse. It does so by presenting over 40-years-worth of the experiences of ex-residents of Philadelphia Association (PA) communities. These were set up by R.D. Laing and others in the 1960s as a response to reductive medical and scientific theories of mental suffering.

The tyranny of scientific certainty and striving for ‘knowing’ so prevalent within our state-sanctioned ‘mental health’ institutions deprives us of other ways of accommodating our curtailed subjectivities, of what it is to suffer, to live, to be human.

This book re-examines an ancient dictum which is dying out today - the Docta Ignorantia - the doctrine of wise unknowing. Through a philosophically informed critique of positivistic research methodology and an analysis and deconstruction of interviews with ex-residents of the PA communities, this book asks the question that must be uttered to regain our subjectivity; is there room for wise unknowing in mental suffering in a world of certainty?

Part One: The Incomplete Project

Chapter 1: Introducing an incomplete project
The incomplete project
The Philosophical underpinnings of the Philadelphia Association Communities
The state of homelessness and the medico-scientific technichisation of therapy
Asylum and autorhythmia
The Philadelphia Association communities and the honouring of true asylum

Chapter 2: Into the paradox
Introducing a necessary paradox

Chapter 3: Method: Towards and in search of an anti-method
The problem of scientific method
The philosophical psychology of John MacMurray; the myth of progress
The origins of western thought: An alternative way of seeing ourselves; an alternative way of living and re-search contra the medico-scientific psychological gaze
Parmenides, Heidegger, and Levinas;the problematic of psychologism, Being, and the ‘Other’
The problem of health
Statement for an anti-method

Chapter 4: Practicalities of carrying out the research
Outline of data collection
Interview procedure
Interviewees’ characteristics

Part Two: Tales from the Docta Ignorantia: Interviews with ex-residents

Chapter 5: Diana
Chapter 6: Cara
Chapter 7: Roland
Chapter 8: Joe
Chapter 9: Rob
Chapter 10: Rose
Chapter 11:  Julia
Chapter 12: Simon
Chapter 13: Sally
Chapter 14: Thomas
Chapter 15: David
Chapter 16: Peter
Chapter 17: Debbie
Chapter 18: Lyn

Part Three: Tales from the Docta Ignorantia: Analysis of Interviews

Chapter 19: The unveiling and re-veiling of a research schema: Approaching an analysis of the interviews
Introduction to the Docta Ignorantia
Analysis of interviews: Approaching the Docta Ignorantia
Schema of interviewees’ discourse

Chapter 20: The honesty of the perplexed and the honesty of perplexity: Analysis of interviews
Diana; Roland; Joe; Rob; Julia; Simon; Sally; Thomas; David; Peter; Debbie; Lyn; Cara; Rose;

Part Four: Summing up a necessary incomplete project

Chapter 21: Meno, Montaigne, and the Docta Ignorantia






This book lets us hear the testimonies of the many people who have lived in the Philadelphia Association Community Houses. Their accounts give a fascinating insight into what it was like to have been a resident in such places. We hear of the experience of living with other people, many of whom were seriously mentally disturbed. We listen into the debates about whether medication was of value and we see how different therapists operated. The most famous, of course, was RD Laing who is remembered fondly by most of the residents and who comes across in these interviews as a charismatic and innovative figure, ready to engage with others. Bruce Scott sensitively frames these testimonies in the context of his wide reading of philosophy, religion and psychotherapy. The book greatly adds to our understanding of this turbulent but important era.   Dr Allan Beveridge, Consultant Psychiatrist, Queen Margaret Hospital, Dunfermline and author of Portrait of the psychiatrist as a young man. The early writings and work of RD Laing, 1927-1960.

Bruce Scott's book is a well written and illuminating testimony of people's personal experiences of living within a community household. My father RDLaing was one of the co-founders of The Philadelphia Association which set up these community houses as an alternative to conventional psychiatric wards and treatments. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in mental health.
Karen Laing, Psychotherapist

Bruce Scott

Bruce Scott

Dr Bruce Scott, PhD, completed his existential and phenomenological informed training in psychoanalysis with the Philadelphia Association in London, an organisation founded by R.D. Laing and others in 1965. He is a trained experimental psychologist and has conducted research into the cognitive model of depression (the theoretical model which informs cognitive behavioural therapy; CBT) and the cognitive effects of SSRI antidepressants. He is a member and on the board of governors of the College of Psychoanalysts-UK, and a member of both the Philadelphia Association and Human Development Scotland. He is a contributing author to ‘R.D. Laing: 50 Years since the Divided Self’, Edited by Theodor Itten and Courtenay Young, published by PCCS Books Ltd. He is also the founder of Acéphale Orientation, an act and initiative inspired by the philosophers Georges Bataille, Friedrich Nietzsche, and others for the purpose of studying and meditating upon their ideas in relation to their value to psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, psychiatry, wider society, and culture. Bruce lives in the Scottish Borders with his wife and son. He has private practices in Edinburgh and the Scottish Borders and continues to work as an independent writer and researcher.

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