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Gaston Franssen (Sep 2021 - Sep 2022)

Assistant Professor in Literary Culture, University of Amsterdam.

My research

I am a literary studies scholar with an interest in personal and popular narratives of illness experiences. My research focuses on the health ideologies implied in such narratives: I am interested in the ways in which these disseminate – or, at times, subvert – normative ideas about health and illness. My aim is to understand how such notions impact individual experiences of illness, but also how they shape our general understanding of what it means to be healthy or ill in contemporary society.

IAS fellowship

At IAS, I will work on a project focusing on ‘diagnostic cultures’ in mental health-care. The project investigates psychiatric diagnoses as culturally embedded, discursive performances that have a normative nature. Some patients experience such performances as stigmatizing and pathologizing, others as empowering or offering forms of acknowledgement. Popular narratives of psychiatric illness, such as bestseller memoirs, nonfiction, testimonials in lifestyle or self-help publications, contribute to such diagnostic cultures in important ways. The two leading questions in this project, then, are: which interdiscursive relations govern the relation between personal narratives and popular representations of mental health diagnoses? And why are some diagnostic cultures experienced as stigmatizing and stifling, and others as enabling or empowering?