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Anxious provision and discourses of certainty: the sutured subject of mentally ill adult learners

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This paper reports on a five-year study which explored the engagement of a group of long-term mentally ill adults in community provision in which they learned basic, expressive literacy. The research mapped points in the learning, writing and auto/biographic engagement where set identities were being troubled, and frisson created in the challenge of the new. This was not always sustained or managed comfortably, raising questions about the containing function of such community learning provision. The study took a critical ethnographic approach in which biographic narrative interviews with learners played a major part. The Lacanian concept of point de capiton is used here, in order to illustrate the extent to which the mentally ill learner of basic literacy is prescribed in and through current educational policy and practice. Given these constraints, the longitudinal data did, however, appear to reveal instances of both agency and defiance, with individuals making a stand regarding their learning. The paper suggests that the anxious regimes of adult learning, ironically, despite their 'discourses of certainty', appeared to replicate symptoms many individuals were suffering from as part of their long-term illness. It asks whether this model of education, in which prescription, observation and quasi-diagnosis prevail, is the most appropriate given the saturated experiences of the mentally ill, of being prescribed to, observed and diagnosed.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of the Arts, London, UK

Publication date: 2009-09-01

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