Academic journal article Social Alternatives

Beyond Madness: Ways to Foster Nonviolence in Human Systems

Academic journal article Social Alternatives

Beyond Madness: Ways to Foster Nonviolence in Human Systems

Article excerpt

Positioned as an epilogue to the themed edition of Social Alternatives on the nature and politics of madness in contemporary Australian society, this article has been inspired by the narratives and analyses of the contributors to this edition. It aims to go beyond madness to explore strategies of resistance to the violence of marginalisation, humiliation and incarceration which often comes before and after a diagnosis of madness. Proposed strategies for resistance include studying up and speaking back to the oppressors; improving the capacity of bystanders to intervene; holding a structural analysis of power and resistance to support social change work; and affirming the value of non-violence and dialogical processes. In this article, resistance to violence is viewed as inevitable, desirable and an act of optimism.


Trained as a social worker in the 1970s, I entered practice buoyed with optimism, thinking my colleagues and I would be part of implementing a generous, fair, and inclusive social contract. Differences based on gender, sexual orientation, class, religion, so-called abilities and ethnicity would cease to matter in this evolving society. The sacking of the Australian Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1975, and the continuing reign of Joh Bjelke-Peterson's conservative National Party Government in Queensland indicated the struggle wasn't over, but the launch of the journal Social Alternatives in 1977, the maintenance of Medicare, legal aid and free tertiary education, even under a national Liberal government, augured well. How wrong we were. The 1990s intervened and as Australia moved further to the political Right, we witnessed either a reluctant tolerance or overt backlash to feminism, Aboriginal land rights, ecological care, economic fairness and respect for the values we held dear. At the heart of these values was an objection to violence, to assaults on the physical and psychological self at a personal, organisational, structural or cultural level. These values were pejoratively labelled naïve, old fashioned, bleeding heart and black armband. The new way would be the old way with power in the hands of hardline economic and social conservatives, most, but not all of whom, would be white and male.

Violence and Resistance

The power of this edition of Social Alternatives has been to place and keep a gaze on the doers of violence. Violence, like all forms of power, is enacted through relationships in all social spheres; like all forms of power, it can take many different forms. Rees has placed his definition of violence in the context of Australia's history and in doing so, has made the point that we live in a violence-prone culture:

An historical momentum of violence has continued in different contexts: as a means of exerting control in families, in the acceptance of violent competition in some sports, and as part of the fascination with war and other forms of violence in the media. This momentum careers along in the administration of justice and slightly more subtly, in the day-to-day transactions in bureaucracies, whether these are schools, universities, church organisations, hospitals or other institutions (1994: 362).

In this collection of articles, violence has been identified as labelling and stigmatising, manipulating to create dependency, delivering excessive amounts of medication and electro convulsive shocks, and authorising seclusion and restraint. The events and encounters of violence which have been written about are examples of Rees' everyday and commonplace transactions, so embedded within hegemonic discourses of power and control that they are often invisible and unspoken of as violence. In a similar way, Freire defines everyday acts of oppression as violence:

Any situation in which A objectively exploits B or hinders his/her pursuit of self-affirmation as a responsible person is one of oppression. Such a situation in itself constitutes violence . …

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