Welcome to our Social Model Starters, 15 minute (or so...) bite-sized podcasts led by our Social Model... & More Festival curator Caroline Mawer. 

In this episode, Caroline is joined by Jodie Louise Russell. They discuss challenging the dichotomy / split between disabled and nondisabled people and drawing parallels between how Disabled and Mad people are treated by society

About Jodie

intersection of mind and medicine. In my research, I consider critically the implications philosophy has for the concepts of mental disorder applied in wider society and I hope to draw out a novel and useful conception of mental disorder in my work to better understand why people experience things in the way that they do.

Research Article: Problems for enactive psychiatry as a practical framework

Maddening the ‘Normal’ Mind - The Polyphony

Jodie Russell, Psychiatry as Shaping Disordered Minds - Online Symposium on Values in Medicine, Science, and Technology 2022


So welcome to the second of the Theatre Deli Social Model Starters.

I'm Caroline Mawer. I'm curator for the Social model and More festival that's peeking in two weeks of workshops and exciting new Theatre in London and Sheffield in November.  

My second guest is Jodie Russell. She's a PhD researcher in philosophy specializing in and challenging philosophy of the mind. I wanted to interview Jodie after I read a really great article she wrote, challenging the binary split, the dichotomy that is often set up between so called normal and not normal people. Jodie's article focuses on Mad people. And I mean, Mad here with a capital M and it's a reclaimed word like Crip. I think that disabled people are marginalized and oppressed in many of the same ways as mad with the capital M people.

Just for a moment, let's go right back to basics.

The medical model says doctors are going to fix us and they don't. Well, the social model says society should change around to fit around us and it hasn't. Well, how much it hasn’t! We need more, or maybe different Or... It's complicated.

So at Theatre Deli, we started by listening to what disabled creatives thought. You can check out the huge range of what you said on our website from. ‘I love the social model’ but also ‘f**k the social model’. So we use those ideas to guide our callout. We got so many great responses. Sadly, we just can't include them all. So these ‘Starters” are trying to make sure we don't miss out some of the big issues. They are only 15 minutes to make them easy to fit in your day.

So let's go.

I'm Caroline. I'm a skinny white woman aged  with scruffy short hair and big purple glasses. And now Jodie she’s why we’re here. Hi, Jodie. Thank you for taking part. Could you describe yourself, please?


I'm a 27 year old white woman with a medium length brown curly hair. I've got a pair of fetching glasses on as well, and a blue stripy top.


So we've only got 15 minutes. So we've had to agree some priorities to talk about it. But there's plenty more good stuff from Jodie after this is going to be some links to her work and ideas.

So let's start, Jodie, do you think your ideas are applicable to disability?

Do you think that people are either disabled or nondisabled?

Is it a true dichotomy? Binary?


Definitely. I think there's a strong continuity between understanding Madness and understanding disability under the social model.

For one, there's a like a shared history that between Mad people and disabled people and that they've both historically been marginalized and oppressed by coercive medical practices. And I think there's also similarity in the way that the world and society structured for particular minds, as well as structured for particular kinds of bodies.

So there's similar kind of a history and a similar kind of fight that I think mad people and disabled people can kind of identify with. 

In terms of whether it's a dichotomy? Definitely not. I think it's clear, like there are a lot of people with experiences of madness who also experience disability and vice versa. And a lot of the time these things seem to come together and come hand in hand. It's not the case that you have one or the other. And so in that sense that there's a lot of unity to the two movements and that we can love knowledge that can be shared between them.


Thank you. Thank you.

Can you remember when you first heard about the social model?

Have you ever seen the concept being used in any useful, practical way?

And when was that?


I came across the social model, actually kind of by accident, and I was working with a student on one of her essays, and she was writing about the social model of disability and she was writing a criticism of it.

And I kind of heard of it and thought about it before, and it didn't really become quite salient into me until I was in a meeting with my trade union rep. And she was very clear and very explicit. And as part of this trade union, we adopt the social model of disability and that was the first experience I'd had of someone taking a model, a particular conception or an idea of what disability is and implementing it in actual practice, and being clear that this is how we're understanding it, this is how we're going to then fight for your rights as workers based on this journey. It did actually work.


Did you get anything good at the meeting because of her saying, I've got the social model alongside myself?


I think I was [...] both really impressed and felt very kind of comforted. I think what was important, I guess our relationship, especially with like a union who's meant to represent your rights, you want to know that actually they're going to kind of like fight for your rights along lines actually benefit you.  

And I think with some other models, like particularly the medical model, they can kind of place the problem back on you. And it's a responsibility to do something or else someone has to intervene in you. And sometimes, you know, it feels like a problem is more structural and the kind of like any conflict, medical issues or any kind of like issues that do need medical attention may be better served or better dealt with if the structural issues around me are also kind of like better handled.

And so it was kind of reassuring to know that, like the the union's going to fight on both those fronts. They're going to fight for my right to access particular things that I need, but also make it such that the environment around me is one where I can flourish.


Which union would want to make you join immediately?


But yeah, yeah…But they-


Don't answer that question because I don't want to put any pressure on that union.

So can I just return to what you said about…I wasn't sure. Maybe the question might make the question clear. When I was saying to you, my first question was about is [...] is it a true dichotomy that disabled
or nondisabled or applicable disability?

And what I was trying to say is, do you are you either -  I'm going to talk about disability now - are you going to be either disabled or not disabled?

And just to broaden out that question, do you think individual people get Mad or disabled in kind of a unitary way? So we're just talking about disability now.

So yeah, Are you either disabled or not disabled, do you think?


I think that in a unitary dichotomous type way. I think the…I think we should be wary and critical of any hard line between whether something comes with a disability or not and there's kind of like good kind of like political and social reasons to to do so. And that if we have like a hard line and we say, okay, those people are definitely not the people
you deny, potentially those people who may have different needs to other people access to certain things that they they need to get on with their daily lives.

And then you also kind of like that by like other and demarcate and group off and pen off another group of people in a way that may make them feel kind of like boxed in. And so I think that's kind of like more ethical reasons to think that there is a kind of sliding scale of what ability and disability means. And this can kind of range very widely.

So it's kind of like interesting to me is that we're both having this conversation and we're both wearing glasses to an extent. Wearing glasses isn't, I think, stereotypically understood as like a disability, but it's sometimes impossible to get on with a work day without them. I know when I don't wear my glasses,I get migraines and then I can't work. And that makes it extremely difficult. 


I think I just want to add to that, that I think so when I wear my glasses, that does not solve my visual problems. You know, they are steeper than that. But I also want to say about the fact that I think that all this works in different ways, but in different cultural ways.

In terms of this, there's a whole lot of intersectional stuff going on here, which is really a big, big deal that I think.


Yeah, it definitely is.

It's a…this is another way in which like that dichotomy kind of breaks down when you think about how a person may interpret their experiences or their way of living in one culture as being this is living well, this is this is an idea of like living the good life. And you and you put that person into a different culture with the standards are different and the norms and the what's expected of that person may be different.

And suddenly like that,they are not able to do the things that are expected of them because it's a different structure, a different social structure around them. And so in that sense, someone may feel or experience disability depending on the culture in the society in which they are living in, which just goes to show how important kind of like environment is.

But there's that. And then there's how do we understand our experiences? And that's embedded in the society that you live in as well. So it's important to consider like how will cultural understandings, how the kind of like communities that we grew up in make a difference to how we experience the world.


Good or bad?  

I really like the way you just use the phrase living well, which is not often bandied about because it feels such a long way away. And in my provocation I spoke about bread and roses and how I want roses as well as bread. I think that living well is so rarely discussed. Thank you very much for bringing that up.

But I think as well as your point about what culture you are in, and it's not only what culture you are living within, but about the culture around you, what effect that has on you. Driving while black. Living while black is a different experience than driving while white, living while white, for example. But I think it's a really special issue.

The disability is changing over time, so it's part from changing over time is that, you know, I've got degenerative diagnoses and so I'm reckoning not much good news is going to be occurring there, but there's a differentness every day or within days or within hours even. And I think that's a big issue around disability.

I don't know whether you want to comment on that too.


Oh, yeah. I think I think as…I think that just goes to show or to further challenge that, that it's not a hard and fast line and we shouldn't box people in because it changes so, so much.

So a lot of my experience of disability is informed through looking through my mum's eyes, the disabled person, my mum has a form of chronic fatigue syndrome and it was very evident to me growing up. She has good days and she has bad days and if you were kind of like a kind of governmental body, kind of like looking in, you may only see snapshots of someone's life.

It's the same with a doctor. Doctors are only going to see a snapshot of your life. And what my mum found really frustrating was, you know, the days where she could go to go to see a doctor or go to a tribunal to challenge her, kind of like disability benefits being taken away. But the days where she was, well, because she could go there and that was evidence that she wasn't she wasn't disabled because she was well, that day.

And and so what you need to do, I think it's more of a this scale of a longer time span of someone's life.

Do they feel that they're living well from their own lived experience?


That thing you said Jodie, which I just loved.

You said about how - I'm going to quote yourself to you -  “disability is something that structures our body and in particular ways like gender disability can be understood to mean less that one is losing one's body or mind. Rather, one is navigating the world in a disabled way.

Can you just say more about that, please, and what you think?

I mean, I think you don't have a direct lived experience of that and your second hand experience of your mum is really not so. Excuse me, the same as directly. Do you want to just say a bit more about what you think about that?


Yeah, I, I, I feel like, well, while I was kind of trying to get out there was, was saying how we experience the world through in part what our bodies are kind of like possible of doing or capable of doing and each of our bodies are structured differently and have different meanings in different contexts.

So it means something different to be a white body in a particular space, an academic space where I work as opposed to being a black body in that space. And that means you have different ways of moving through that space. And if you're differently abled as well, you'll have different ways of interacting with that space.

So like in Edinburgh where I live, it's very inaccessible for a lot of people who have trouble with mobility because of the way that the streets are super old, very difficult to navigate, it's very hilly. And so in a way that means that when a person approaches walking through the city, walking through a space, they may have to do different things or take different measures. And that means interacting with the world in a different way.

It means having a different experience of the world that an able bodied person probably would not experience at all. And that means you have a different view on the world, essentially a different way of knowing about the world.


It was just a literally just before we started, there was something on the World Service about a really famous record producer who is blind and and is internationally. Even I knew some of the records that he's that he's produced.

And I'm like, How do you do that? And it was and he was doing films and records, and I was just like, that's because he knows how to navigate the world in his way, which is much better than I can do it at all, even though he's got much less vision than me. So I think that it is how we can make it possible for everybody to be a world beating record producer. Not everybody I don't believe is going to manage to do that, but make it possible that.

What I want to end with is for us to think about a little bit more about. So we would, you know, I talked at the beginning about how we're trying to think the whole festival is about challenging and building on the social, the social model.

But I think that maybe we need less a model because a model isn't going to fit with all our diversities within disability.

But so what do you think?

What should we what should we think about?

Have you got any ideas on that? Please.


I'm a big fan of the idea of having like a plurality of models, having different ways of conceptualizing and understanding things for different people, but acknowledging their overlaps, acknowledging how they influence each other.

For me, I think it's really important if you have lots of different models going on, different ways of people understanding their bodies and their experiences that we aren't draconian about, like advocating for a specific or definitive one that would then exclude or marginalize some of the others.

I think it's key to pay attention to how our various models may influence how we understand ourselves and understand other people and how we may then treat other people.


How do we get that over to people who are, Oh, no, I'm going to use a terrible word journey. And the people who you know, as
you become more disabled, then everything changes and you change how you feel about it and you change what you can do and you change what you think about and so on.

But how do we get over?

I remember someone who was the first time I met somebody somewhere, and I said to them, we’re doing The Social Model Festival and this is the things that I love the social model and immediately told me how much they loved it and how much it became wonderful for them to find out about.

But we're kind of like definitely suckers for the social model and how do we get that over to people who are who are you know, there's different they're having different challenges.

Is that different things happen with them? I don't know if you can say that really quickly, because we don't have too much time left, or maybe we should just put it out there to the whole everybody please respond. But if you want to say something Jodie, please do


I think is definitely an open question. And I think it's good to leave questions open because when you leave questions open, you leave it for more fruitful thoughts.


That's a very touching. Glad to hear this.

So good. We are at the end of our time. I'm very sorry to say I could definitely talk to you for about a million years, which would be great. But just to kind of underline, there's going to be some more stuff underneath this about links to other work that Jodie has done.

Thank you so much for taking part in this. It's been really great and I'm hope we'll obviously going to be keeping in touch and thank you.  

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.



Thank you for having me.