R.D. Laing and the Problem of Experience: Therapy, Community and Education


Dr. Vlad Morariu and Jaakko Karhunen

11am Wednesday 25 January in Radar Artspace

A hero of the British counter-culture and protagonist of an unorthodox approach to psychiatry and of a practice that intersected art and politics, R.D. Laing’s legacy deserves revaluation. It has the potential to provide tools for working through the contemporary connections between the capitalist semio-sphere and the aetiology of mental health. The concept of ‘experience’, which he develops by reading Jean Paul Sartre and, by extension, Martin Heidegger’s phenomenology, is key to understanding how Laing’s work sets itself apart from Freud-inspired psychoanalyses and various Marxisms. The same concept provides an entry point to understanding the dynamics within the therapeutic communities at Kingsley Hall and Archway (1965-1972) and the progressive conception of education and learning practiced within the London Anti-University.


In 2016 Vlad Morariu and Jaakko Karhunen conducted research in the R.D. Laing archive held at the University of Glasgow. They approached Laing with an interest in the correlation between the capitalist precarization of life and the increasing incidence of mental health disorders; Morariu’s research looking at institutional formations and the possibilities of institutional critique, while Karhunen working on contemporary art’s appropriation of Félix Guattari’s concept of subjectivity.  Their presentation does not aim to celebrate uncritically R.D. Laing’s thought: particular attention will be paid to Guattari’s critique of the Mary Barnes case and Laing’s friend, mathematician Gordon Spencer Brown’s eye-witness account of what went wrong in the Kingsley Hall experiment. The presentation restages Laing’s thought within a contemporary context, which includes reformulating the problem of experience: what is there to say, five decades later, about how and what we experience in the family, in the psychotherapist’s office, in the university and in the museum?


Work cited: Laing, R.D. (1971). Self and Others, 2nd ed. London: Penguin Books.


Photo: Hag, R.D. Laing, 1978, Print made for the National Portrait Gallery UK. Available at: http://hagsphotography.com/r-d-laing



For more information contact Gill Whiteley G.Whiteley@lboro.ac.uk




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