The Epistemology and Ethics of Analysing Lived Experience Data: A Pragmatic Foucauldian-Informed Approach to Coproducing Student Mental Health Initiatives in the Neoliberal University

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Abstract

Analysis of lived experience data is increasingly advocated as an enabling strategy to inform ethical and effective policy and practice, particularly in the university mental health field. However, where Michel Foucault’s work is often drawn on to frame subjectivity of lived experience in the neoliberal university, this brings forth epistemological, methodological, and ethical tensions in using student voice to inform changes in mental health policy and practice. In Foucauldian terms, a double bind emerges wherein the power of student voice to destabilise existing forms of mental health knowledge and to reimagine the distress-inducing power structures within the neoliberal university are recuperated to (re)produce the same neoliberal structures and subjectivities. Drawing on data from 10 student focus groups, this study explores the epistemic, methodological, and ethical questions attached to analysis of student lived experience data in the context of a Foucauldian-informed understanding of the neoliberal university. It is argued that in pragmatist terms, whilst student voice must be contextualised within the socio-material and socio-psychological context of the neoliberal system to ensure beneficial consequences for student experience, a Foucauldian approach to interpreting lived experience data can also re-empower the subject with the freedom to resist and disrupt the reproduction of mentally unhealthy structures within the neoliberal system as part of a whole university approach.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Qualitative Methods
Volume22
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 20 Nov 2023

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