How to think about the social in psychiatric research? On language games and styles of social thought

Rasmus Birk*, Nick Manning

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

Over the last 20 years, the importance of ‘the social’ has again become a crucial theme within psychiatric research, as evidenced for example by the recent focus on the social determinants of mental health. However, what is less clear is what is meant, in this kind of research, by the very idea of the social—and what consequences those ideas have. The key purpose of the article is therefore to discuss what is often meant by the concept of ‘the social’; what different ideas of the social do; and what can be at stake in the different, explicit and implicit, understandings of social life that proliferate in contemporary psychiatric research. We propose that there are, roughly, three widespread styles of social thought, wherein (a) the social is seen as structural, (b) the social is seen as individual, and (c) the social is seen as relational/processual. We exemplify these by discussing examples of ‘social defeat’ and ‘therapeutic communities’, focused on what might be at stake in different understandings of social life. Lastly, we draw on the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein to argue that a singular understanding of ‘the social’ is not achievable.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 14 Oct 2023

Keywords

  • Epistemic justice
  • Language game
  • Social
  • Social defeat
  • Sociology

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