New Beginnings: Art Extraordinary and the Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival 2018

By Cheryl McGeachan

Over the past few weeks in May preparations have been underway for the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival 2018! As part of a long-standing collaboration between Glasgow Life, Leverndale Hospital and Human Geography at the University of Glasgow, we all came together in Glasgow Museums Resource Centre to engage with a range of objects up-close and to hear stories about their making.

The Pod selected for the tour was Number 16, which houses the Art Extraordinary Collection. Art Extraordinary in a unique collection of Scottish ‘art brut’ creatively composed by Joyce Laing, the first art therapist in Scotland. Having worked with the collection for six years alongside Tony Lewis (Curator of Scottish History) and Claire Coia (Curator for the Open Museum), I was excited to see what the visitors from Leverndale would make of the collection.

Three artists and a selection of their work were chosen for the tour. Mrs McGilp, whose brightly coloured landscape paintings depict a fantasy garden world away from her hospital environment, was an obvious choice as her work connects beautifully to understanding the everyday experiences of living with mental (ill)health. A further selection was that of Flora Johnston, a shell artist from Lochdar in South Uist, and thought to be one of the last practitioners of demotic Celtic art. Flora’s creative flair for decorating walls and a bus with her captivating shell art captures the beauty and escapism in making. Finally, an artist named Willie McP was selected by Tony for his intriguing sculptures of human faces that have a rare ability to connect across time and space. All three artists highlight the significance of communicating through compulsive making and signify the joy and imaginative escapism it can bring. Visitors from Leverndale were shown the objects up-close in the Pod and stories that I had created from my research into the collection about the artists and their creative practices were shared amongst the group. Many of the visitors were fascinated by Flora’s shell bus and intrigued by the mystery surrounding both Mrs McGilp and Willie McP. Like most ‘outsider artists’ we know very little about their lives and their experiences and yet their art remains, somehow speaking to us from across the centuries.


Story resources I produced for the tours around Pod 16

After the tour we all returned to the art room to have a cup of tea (and a Tunnocks Tea-Cake) and to try out some making of our own. Sarah Wilson, an artist working with Glasgow Life, had devised a range of activities inspired by Flora’s shell-art, Mrs McGilp’s paintings and Willie McP’s sculptures. Visitors explored the materials as we chatted about the objects that we had seen. Faces were carved, shells were stuck into clay and postcards were painted, reflecting the creative inspiration that viewing the Art Extraordinary collection encouraged.


A selection of the artwork produced in the sessions at GMRC.


A key purpose of this visit was for the Leverndale participants to choose objects from the collection for their own exhibition entitled ‘Fresh Ideas and New Directions’ held at the Recreational Therapy Department at the Hospital as part of the SMHAFF. Items from all three artists were selected and all made their way to the exhibition. The event was a wonderful display of the power of creativity and the hopeful possibilities that art making, in all its forms, can generate for individuals experiencing mental ill-health in different times and places. Mesmerising artwork adorned walls, doors, ceilings and garden spaces of the Unit and the soundscape of laughter, conversation and singing filled the room.


Examples of the art on display in Leverndale Recreational Therapy Unit from the show ‘Beginnings’.

Many people came to view the Art Extraordinary work on display and questions were frequently asked about the artists and their making practices. Flora’s shell art attracted a great deal of interest and the mysterious qualities to Mrs McGilp and Willie McP led to numerous fruitful discussions about interpreting the pieces. A quiz devised by Claire encouraged visitors to engage in more detail with the Art Extraordinary objects and their stories and to potentially win a prize! Watching people point, read, look and discuss the objects up close outside of the museum environment is an exceptionally rewarding process and so much can be learned from these visitor interactions.


Examples of the Art Extraordinary collection on display in Leverndale Recreational Therapy Unit.


Throughout the past month this series of collaborations has further inspired and enthused my work with the Art Extraordinary collection. Working with Claire, Tony and all the amazing individuals at Leverndale generates new ideas about what work the collection can do in the world and what it has to tell us about mental (ill)health and creativity. We are all looking forward to continuing the conversations!





Tracing outsideness

Tracing outsideness: young women’s institutional journeys and the geographies of closed space (2016)

Anna Schliehe

Thesis available via Enlighten


Understanding confinement and its complex workings between individuals and society has been the stated aim of carceral geography and wider studies on detention. This project contributes ethnographic insights from multiple sites of incarceration, working with an under-researched group within confined populations. Focussing on young female detainees in Scotland, this project seeks to understand their experiences of different types of ‘closed’ space. Secure care, prison and closed psychiatric facilities all impact on the complex geographies of these young women’s lives. The fluid but always situated relations of control and care provide the backdrop for their journeys in/out and beyond institutional spaces. Understanding institutional journeys with reference to age and gender allows an insight into the highly mobile, often precarious, and unfamiliar lives of these young women who live on the margins. This thesis employs a mixed-method qualitative approach and explores what Goffman calls the ‘tissue and fabric’ of detention as a complex multi-institutional practice. In order to be able to understand the young women’s gendered, emotional and often repetitive experiences of confinement, analysis of the constitution of ‘closed space’ represents a first step for inquiry. The underlying nature of inner regimes, rules and discipline in closed spaces, provide the background on which confinement is lived, perceived and processed. The second part of the analysis is the exploration of individual experiences ‘on the inside’, ranging from young women’s views on entering a closed institution, the ways in which they adapt or resist the regime, and how they cope with embodied aspects of detention. The third and final step considers the wider context of incarceration by recovering the young women’s journeys through different types of institutional spaces and beyond. The exploration of these journeys challenges and re-develops understandings of mobility and inertia by engaging the relative power of carceral archipelagos and the figure of femina sacra. This project sits comfortably within the field of carceral geography while also pushing at its boundaries. On a conceptual level, a re-engagement with Goffman’s micro-analysis challenges current carceral-geographic theory development. Perhaps more importantly, this project pushes for an engagement with different institutions under the umbrella of carceral geography, thus creating new dialogues on issues like ‘care’ and ‘control’. Finally, an engagement with young women addresses an under-represented population within carceral geography in ways that raise distinctly problematic concerns for academic research and penal policy. Overall, this project aims to show the value of fine grained micro-level research in institutional geographies for extending thinking and understanding about society’s responses to a group of people who live on the margins of social and legal norms.

Eleanor Martin

Eleanor Martin is a PhD candidate in Human Geography in the School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow, and supervised by Prof. Hester Parr and Dr. Cheryl McGeachan. She can be contacted by e-mail: or on twitter @eleanormartin.


My doctoral research considers the impact that work and working has on recovery for people with severe and enduring mental health conditions. Much ‘policy work’ that concerns people with disabilities advocates that the best way to support individuals is to get them into mainstream employment. There has been a lack of evidence to disprove this, as there has been a dearth of research into alternatives. The spatial implications of getting people with severe mental health conditions into ‘mainstream’ workplaces are myriad and complex, and are rarely thoroughly considered by policy makers. Through this research I hope to change the way that ‘work’ is thought about, consider how mental health services can offer meaningful alternatives to workfare-style practices, and contribute to growing literature about the geographies of mental health.

I am a qualitative researcher, with particular interests in emotional geographies. My PhD fieldwork has entailed an in-depth ethnographic study as an ‘observant participant’ at a mental health organisation in Glasgow. In addition to this I have undertaken semi-structured interviews to ask specific questions about work, and gathered documentary evidence from my field site to gain a deeper perspective on the cultural and political history of the organisation I am researching.


Thesis: Reconstructing a Twentieth-Century Scottish Psychiatrist

Congratulations to Sarah Phelan on the succesful defence of her thesis: Reconstructing a Twentieth-Century Scottish Psychiatrist: Thomas Ferguson Rodger, “Wartime Psychiatry”, “Eclecticism”, and “Mad Dreaming”


This PhD explores the contribution to psychiatry of Thomas Ferguson Rodger (1907–1978), first Professor of Psychological Medicine at the University of Glasgow (1948–1973) and consultant psychiatrist at several Glasgow hospitals. Rodger is a somewhat neglected figure in the history of Scottish psychiatry, yet his career spanned – and in some measure also shaped – an important period of transformation as traditional asylum-based psychiatry was challenged by emergent general hospital- and community-based psychiatry. Rodger’s personal archive, including lecture notes, patient case notes, correspondence and miscellaneous items, has recently been catalogued by the University of Glasgow Archives through funding from the Wellcome Trust. This study comprises a forensic reading/interpretation of this archive, alongside oral histories with individuals who remember him and his immediate legacy in/beyond the University. Adopting perspectives drawn from the history/geography of psychiatry and medical humanities, it reconstructs Rodger’s life, ideas and practices, set within the changing ‘spaces’ of mid-twentieth century psychiatric medicine.

This thesis reads across Rodger’s papers as well as sources within other repositories, allowing themes to emerge and develop which form the basis for discrete case studies in twentieth-century psychiatry. Rodger’s career, as reconstructed from his archive, provides a compelling aperture into psychiatric developments of the interwar, Second World War and post-war periods respectively. Beginning in the Second World War, it elaborates upon the link between Rodger’s and his fellow military psychiatrists’ endeavours in personnel selection and the inception of the therapeutic community model at Northfield Military Hospital in Birmingham. Foregrounding how the therapeutic ideals of the psychiatrists were subordinated to military aims and tradition, it speculates upon Rodger’s post-war re-envisioning of psychiatry as at least in part a reaction to the limited application of their techniques during wartime. The thesis then moves to the changing post-war therapeutic landscape, situating Rodger’s eclectic psychiatry within the context of deinstitutionalisation and the therapeutic armamentarium of ostensibly divergent physical and psychological methods. It complicates eclectic psychiatry’s straightforward descent from Meyer’s and Henderson’s dynamic psychiatry by positioning it as a response to the challenge of deinstitutionalisation in balancing between contrasting treatment methods, and additionally as a critical acknowledgement of the uncertainty afflicting understandings of mental disorder, especially with respect to the efficacy of physical therapies. Finally, the thesis returns to the earliest phase of Rodger’s career for which archival evidence exists: his times as Deputy Superintendent at Glasgow Royal Mental Hospital in the 1930s, when he was experimentally examining the resonances of psychoanalytic theories in his own work framed by the psychiatric pessimism of the time. Through discussion of dream analytic sessions, it elucidates Rodger’s dissatisfaction with psychoanalysis’ failure to account for environmental difficulties and stresses Rodger’s adoption of a more pragmatic ‘common-sense’ therapeutic attitude. Collectively, the thesis underlines Rodger’s self-critical stance towards his profession and his developing conviction about the significance of social/environmental and cultural factors in the causation and cure of mental distress.

New paper: The (un)habitual geographies of social anxiety disorder

This is Louise Boyle’s first publication related to her PhD research that explores the lived experience of social anxiety. The paper was published as part of a Special Issue on Health and Wellbeing in the journal Social Science and Medicine.

The article is available online.


This article investigates experiences of Social Anxiety Disorder (‘social anxiety’) with reference to recent geographical debates on habit. It considers how habit simultaneously captures (un)reflective modes of being in the world and the foreboding disruptive capacity of uncertainty as people attempt to adapt to, negotiate and manage everyday life with social anxiety. Drawing on lived accounts from online questionnaires and online interviews with people diagnosed, or self-diagnosing, with social anxiety, it uncovers the relational and embodied practices-and the inherent spatialities of such practices-that enable individuals to (re)gain control of their socio-spatial surroundings. It also considers the capacity for habits to become disrupted and displaced through pervasive anxieties and persistent rumination and anticipation, situated within the context of participants’ everyday lives. This analysis highlights the social, spatial and temporal dimensions of socially anxious experiences. Overall, by interpreting lived experience in this way, this article introduces a socio-spatial dynamic to otherwise extremely limited accounts of social anxiety found outside of the dominant biomedical framework.

Thesis: Scottish-Jewish ‘madness’?

Cris Sarg successfully defened her thesis in mid-September 2017. The full thesis title and abstract are as follows:

Scottish-Jewish ‘madness’?: An examination of Jewish admissions to the royal asylums of Edinburgh and Glasgow, c.1870-1939. Thesis available on Enlighten


This thesis sits at the junction of asylum history and Anglo-Jewish history, specifically Scottish Jewish history, and contributes new perspectives to scholarship on histories of both psychiatry and Anglo-Jewry. It explores the lived experiences of Jewish patients admitted to the royal asylums of Edinburgh and Glasgow between 1870 and 1939 using a range of both quantitative and qualitative archival sources. A discussion of the relevant literature that has focused on ‘Anglo’ asylums and Anglo-Jewry, particularly on Scottish asylums and Scottish Jewry, provides the historical context for the research questions being asked about how Jewish patients admitted to the royal asylums were understood, diagnosed and treated. The quantitative Jewish patient population is presented, discussing: demographic variables such as gender distribution, age at admission and the patient’s marital status at admission; social variables such as ‘class’ as regards a patient’s accommodation within the asylum and their occupation; diagnostic variables such as the mental disorders identified; and finally institutional variables such as a patient’s discharge status and the length of a patient’s stay within the asylum. This Jewish patient profile is compared to control samples of non-Jewish patients to detect similarities and differences between the two groups, providing scope for the qualitative accounts that follow. Qualitative sources are then used, pulling out a number of individual case histories as detailed exemplars of broader claims, spread across three substantial chapters. The first qualitative chapter draws on several of the themes presented in the discussion of relevant literature, such as matters of Jewish demography, migration, family dynamics, social standing, cultural experiences and the like, as these intersect with the ‘asylum lifecycle’, meaning periods spent in and outside of the asylum by these patients. This material opens a door to the Jewish patient experience through the discussion and analysis of several themes, such as: family, community, immigration status, social class, migration histories, big and small and the asylum lifecycle with respect to patients who experienced multiple admissions to asylums. The next chapter’s overarching theme is the Jewish body – all aspects of Jewish embodiment; of embodying Jewishness – in the asylum. This theme is further broken down into specific areas for discussion, such as: the male Jewish body; poisoning, because historically Jews have been associated with the act of poisoning; the diagnostic criteria as it was applied to Jews during the period under investigation; the role of language within the clinical encounter; and troublesome patients. The goal here is to illustrate how the Jewish body was often seen as inherently different from other (British) asylum patients and therefore pathologised because of those differences, such that in certain situations merely being Jewish suggested a likelihood of being mentally unstable and possessing a mental illness due to the Jewishness association. The final qualitative chapter concentrates on Jewish women and their experiences within Scottish asylums, highlighting some of the gendered differences within that experience when compared to the male Jewish experience of madness that was primarily tackled in the previous chapter. This chapter discuses Jewish women and their place within the Jewish community and wider Anglo-Scottish society, and further it addresses the perceived close relationship between Jewish women and mental illness, itself complicated by the extent to which the woman concerned sought to live up to a vision of the perfect Jewish mother while also being judged through an idealized version of domestically content British (middle-class) womanly reserve. Final conclusions are added which summarise the contributions made by the thesis, and speculate about further inquires that might be conducted in this field.

Book review: Caring Architecture

Re-blogged from BMJ Blogs:

Caring Architecture: Institutions and Relational Practices by Catharina Nord and Ebba Högström, Newcastle Upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishers, 2017, 220 pages.

Book review by Cris Sarg (University of Glasgow)

Caring Architecture: Institutions and Relational Practices is an edited collection by Catharina Nord and Ebba Högström that had its genesis in a session of the 2014 Royal Geographical Society – Institute of British Geographers (RGS-IBG) Annual International Conference that was held in London. With this in mind, it is no surprise that the papers that comprise this volume approach medical humanities from a human geography perspective, examining institutional spaces in both historical and contemporary contexts.

The overarching aim of this book is ‘to elucidate how architectural space in institutions is involved in processes of complex ordering – the kind of ordering which destabilises order, as it were – thereby hopefully contributing a more detailed and nuanced image of what it is that is happening in institutional care today’ (10). Chapters 1, 2, 3 and 6 examine various contemporary institutional spaces such as hospitals, residential facilities and assisted living for the elderly in Sweden. The first chapter by Erling Björgvinsson and Gunnar Sandin focuses on the experience of hospital patients and ‘spatial manoeuvring and norms that emerge when [these] patients negotiate and align [themselves] with the hospital’s culture’ (15). Therefore, they argue that ‘the appearance of vagueness [within these spaces] must inevitably arise, but that there are different types of vagueness.’ (34)

In the second chapter, Susanne Severinsson examines the fluctuating and stabilising aspects of an art studio/room and materiality within the context of a residential care facility for troubled teenagers, arguing that a lack of ‘structure’ within these spaces, as viewed through several lenses, such as art lessons, psychotherapy, amusement, and imprisonment, make it possible to capture mobility and flow and provide an example of a ‘paradoxical space’. Then in Chapter 3, Catherina Nord explores the essential goals of assisted living – autonomy, privacy and dignity – through an examination of its historical and architectural roots with the support of the Deleuzian/Guattarian concept of stratum. Nord argues that ‘residents’ privacy, autonomy, and dignity are negotiated in refreshingly de-territorialising processes in which architectural space is at stake.’ (80) In Chapter 6, Morgan Andersson also focuses on an assisted living facility. Andersson argues that, despite spatial limitations, the usability of the facility is in continual negotiation, conceived, perceived and lived between the environment and users in the performance of spaces, artefacts and residents.

In contrast, Chapters 4, 5 and 7 take a historical turn in their examination of asylums or mental hospitals in Scotland and mental health clinics in Sweden. Chapter 4 by Kim Ross examines the engineering of affective atmospheres within the interior of nineteenth-century Scottish asylum spaces. Ross argues that the moral, medical and hygienic discourses of the period had a profound influence on the arrangement and use of both internal and external spaces of these asylums, with the hope that these engineered spaces would affect the behaviour of these patients. In Chapter 5, Cheryl McGeachan examines the work of Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing who became well known for his humanist approaches to psychiatric care and was a prominent figure within the anti-psychiatry movement. The main thrust of this chapter is the complex network between spaces of care, the psychiatric encounter and the worlds of individuals experiencing mental ill health from which new subjectivities emerge, in addition to illustrating the impact Laing’s experience with the patients of the ‘rumpus room’ had on his ‘(re)configuration of psychiatric practice and the space of mental care.’ (126) Finally, in Chapter 7, Ebba Högström examines the difficulties of translating specific spatial experiences into general design recommendations through an exploration of the organisation, design, experiences and representations of Saltsjöbaden Mental Health Centre, which opened in 1975 as part of the decentralisation movement in Sweden. Högström concludes that any guidelines that are established as a result of this experiment are only stable for a short time and that ‘this way of thinking entails broader (re)presentational repertories for architects and other spatial agents working in the care industry, particularly when translating immaterialities and materialities into guidelines for future caring architecture.’ (162)

The strength and weakness of this collection is its temporal scope, in that the topics that are discussed within stretch from the Victorian period until relatively recently, which can be somewhat jarring when the collection is read from cover to cover. Since most readers will focus on the sections that are most relevant to their research, this weakness becomes less prominent. Overall it illustrates that mores – moral, medical, and political – evolve and change over time as regards all types of institutional provisions, encompassing the physical and psychological needs of patients/residents and staff. Simply put, there are more points of convergence than would be expected on the surface.