Representations of madness on British television : a social psychological analysis
This thesis attempts to describe and delineate the ways in which madness is represented on British television. The empirical analyses are guided by two theoretical approaches. These are social psychology, particularly the theory of social representations, and media studies. The central findings are that madness is very strongly associated with violence on British television; that nearly all representations are negative; that there is a lack of explanation and accounting for madness; that psychiatric experts are tinged with the same negative evaluations and even violence that characterises the representations of those who are mentally distressed; that there is multiplicity and confusion in the representations and that filming styles mark off the mad person as different to other characters who appear in the data. These findings lead to the argument that the mad person is constituted as Other on British television. The empirical data are compared to the theoretical frameworks and it is proposed that, in terms of the theory of social representations, mental illness is not represented in the same way as other social objects. Madness does not obey the laws of representation as proposed by social psychologists. Rather the mad person resists safe classification and thereby is constructed as a fearful Other. The thesis also attempts to integrate theoretical ideas from social psychology and media studies. It is suggested that there is scope for this around the concepts of narrative structure, cardinal news values and dramatic form although integrating postmodernist approaches is more difficult. The methodological contribution of the thesis consists in the attempt to combine quantitative and qualitative means of analysis and to eschew the search for underlying meanings or deep structures. Future work will build on current analyses of audience responses to media representations of mental illness and will also look at those responsible for television productions. It is argued that the symbolic environment of television has an impact on social attitudes towards mental illness and may adversely affect the policy of caring for mentally distressed people in community, social settings.