An exploration of the effects of learning technical skills in a social environment on mental health recoveries

  • Nicholas Marks

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Against a backdrop of ongoing critiques of the positivist theories and methodologies underpinning the development and delivery of contemporary mainstream mental health care, this research consolidates an extended period of ethnographic research into the impacts on wellbeing amongst volunteers who are learning to refurbish, repair and maintain bicycles in a bicycle workshop run as a community project by a parent charity.

    The analysis uses an actor-network inflected approach to examine how the participants in the generation of the local site in question – volunteers, bicycles, the workshop as a business and a clinic, tools, skills, subjective experiences and objective diagnoses of distress, as well as affective flows more generally - are coming into being in relation to one another in the context of local practices.

    Emerging similarities between the practices of actor-network theory and bicycle mechanics are then highlighted; the suggestion is made that both disciplines – those of actor-network theory inflected study and the repair and refurbishment of bicycles - in concerning themselves with opening up, examining and tinkering with or ‘fettling’ an always provisional, a-theoretical state of relational affairs, cultivate in their practitioners an awareness the of how all ‘things’ are being ‘made up’ – locally and relationally generated at sites of practice.

    With actor-network theory available as a convenient and effective set of tools to carry out the initial work of unravelling algorithmic, ‘punctualised’ ‘things’ into their affective components, ‘actor-network therapy’ is proposed as a provisional term for any tinkering, ‘fettling’, manual practice which, specifically through the development of haptic and aesthetic sensibilities, is seen to alleviate feelings of distress. The practical issues of implementing and evaluating an actor-network therapy intervention are then considered.

    The research provides evidential and theoretical support for the provision of informal workshop spaces as a component of mainstream mental health services. It also highlights the role that actor-network theory-informed insights into the relational generation of multiple, concurrent realities can play in the alleviation of states of emotional distress.
    Date of AwardJan 2019
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Brighton
    SupervisorMark Erickson (Supervisor)

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