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The recovery narrative: politics and possibilities of a genre

Woods, Angela and Hart, Akiko and Spandler, Helen (2022) 'The recovery narrative: politics and possibilities of a genre.', Culture, medicine, and psychiatry., 46 (2). pp. 221-247.


Recovery is now widely acknowledged as the dominant approach to the management of mental distress and illness in government, third-sector and some peer-support contexts across the United Kingdom and elsewhere in the Anglophone Global North. Although narrative has long been recognised in practice and in policy as a key “technology of recovery,” there has been little critical investigation of how recovery narratives are constituted and mobilised, and with what consequences. This paper offers an interdisciplinary, critical medical humanities analysis of the politics and possibilities of Recovery Narrative, drawing literary theoretical concepts of genre and philosophical approaches to the narrative self into conversation with the critiques of recovery advanced by survivor-researchers, sociologists and mad studies scholars. Our focus is not on the specific stories of individuals, but on the form, function and effects of Recovery Narrative as a highly circumscribed kind of storytelling. We identify the assumptions, lacunae and areas of tension which compel a more critical approach to the way this genre is operationalised in and beyond mental health services, and conclude by reflecting on the possibilities offered by other communicative formats, spaces and practices.

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Publisher statement:© The Author(s) 2019. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.
Date accepted:No date available
Date deposited:22 March 2019
Date of first online publication:21 March 2019
Date first made open access:26 May 2022

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