The Indispensability of Critique: Reflections on Bearing Witness to Mental Health Discourse


  • Simon Adam York University, School of Nursing
  • Cheryl van Daalen-Smith York University
  • Linda Juergensen York University



Critique, Critical Theory, Michel Foucault, Mental Health


Reflecting on two mental health examples from our practice, we demonstrate how in the instances that critique is absent, the results can be catastrophic. Drawing on Foucauldian theory, we propose the idea of critique, known as the vigilant tempering of governance (or the ‘conduct of conduct’). We advance that critique is an indispensable health resource for the practicing mental health nurse and for nursing more broadly, without which nursing risks participating in the reproduction of hegemonic discourses and practices. Critique, in this paper, is theorized as a tool to be included in the nurse’s repertoire, that which can unlock a variety of ontological and epistemological possibilities. We discuss some reasons why nursing critique is constrained and offer questions for further reflection and critical consideration.


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Author Biographies

Simon Adam, York University, School of Nursing

Dr. Simon Adam is a social scientist in nursing. His program of scholarship focuses on the mental health industry, its various institutional and discursive dimensions, the consumer/survivor/mad experience, and alternative and counter-hegemonic ways of conceptualizing human illness, suffering, and crisis. His work considers what is currently termed 'mental illness' as largely a product of social, economic, and political apparatuses, while examining how education, professionalization, and pop culture reproduce a medicalized way of understanding what is otherwise a normal human condition. Simon works with various communities, including psychiatric survivors and psychiatric consumers, mad people, neurodiverse people, and people who use drugs.

Cheryl van Daalen-Smith, York University

Dr. van Daalen-Smith is a long-time critical public health nurse and nurse educator. She enjoys cross-appointments at York University to the School of Nursing, School of Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies, the Children, Childhood and Youth Program and the Graduate Program in Interdisciplinary Studies where she served as Director for three years. A ten year dream, Witness was envisioned and founded by Cheryl in her desire to give back to Canadian nursing in (what she hopes) is a meaningful and sustained way. Her research relevant to this manuscript has included a critical exploration of women's experiences of both electroshock and psychiatric hospitalization. She is completing similar work with men, focusing on enforced gender role prescriptions as complicit in the silencing of men's emotions.  

Linda Juergensen, York University

Linda Juergensen is a Registered Nurse and Faculty member with the School of Nursing at York University.  She is completing her doctoral degree at the University of Ottawa. Her fields of study are community health nursing and the sociopolitical context of health. As a former public health nurse, she has lived and worked in Canada, Africa and the Middle East, and brings a local and global perspective, as well as a social justice and critical theory lens to her research and teaching. She is particularly interested in the concepts of meaningful engagement, decolonization, and collaborative practice and helping develop a more inclusive and comprehensive approach to infectious diseases management in public health care with people affected by HIV and Tuberculosis.


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How to Cite

Adam, S., van Daalen-Smith, C., & Juergensen, L. (2019). The Indispensability of Critique: Reflections on Bearing Witness to Mental Health Discourse. Witness: The Canadian Journal of Critical Nursing Discourse, 1(1), 39–48.