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Title: Unaccountable: Surreal Life in California's Mental Health Courts
Authors: Cooper, Jessica
Advisors: Davis, Elizabeth A.
Biehl, João
Contributors: Anthropology Department
Keywords: care
legal anthropology
medical anthropology
United States
Subjects: Cultural anthropology
Mental health
Issue Date: 2018
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Set against the backdrop of an American era of mass incarceration and absent social services, this dissertation examines how judges, attorneys, clinicians, and clients come to care for one another and reimagine justice in California’s mental health courts. I draw on two years of fieldwork in mental health courts in the San Francisco Bay Area – innovative criminal courtrooms that aspire to release their mentally-ill and homeless clients from jail and provide them mental health care through the court – to examine the ethical, affective, and political stakes of encounters between professionals and clients. While relationships between professionals and clients are imagined to be spaces in which clients can be held accountable, I suggest that the longstanding nature of these relationships entails affective engagements that exceed the terms of accountability that the law asks them to negotiate and pursue. Relationships of care inaugurated in mental health courts accommodate profound ambiguity and uncertainty and, in so doing, undermine the work of individuation on which the assignment of responsibility depends. I describe adjudication under these circumstances as surreal, in that incommensurable meanings are occasioned by care and are unaccountable to the ordering logic of reason. My dissertation unfolds in three parts. In Part One, I situate mental health courts’ turn to care as an attempt to redress the injustices of mass incarceration and deinstitutionalization. Engaging the experiences of clients and professionals who attempt to call upon accountability as a means to justice only to discover their calls unanswered, I suggest that an ethics of accountability presumes a degree of systematicity, control, and coherence that is not empirically warranted within mental health courts. Parts Two and Three trace the social circulation of psychic phenomena that are typically understood as centered on the subject – dissociation and trauma – to demonstrate the courts’ destabilization of categories upon which ethics of accountability rely and reveal alternative ethics unaccountable to reason. I show how dissociated meanings overflow individuation and how trauma flows through and sustains social relations without demanding individuation as a precondition for ethics.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Anthropology

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