The Madzines Research Team: a neurodiverse ecosystem
We contributed recently to a workshop run by Neurodiversity at Oxford, a group that celebrates, connects and empowers Oxford University’s neurodiverse community through talks, social events, mentoring and training for students & staff.
It was a chance to reconnect with one of the organisers, Anna Stenning of the Narratives of Neurodiversity Network, who attended our Reimagining mental health event last year and subsequently blogged for us about it.
We have increasingly been influenced by the neurodiversity movement which sees human diversity as important and necessary as biodiversity. Unfortunately, neurodiversity is often confused with neurodivergence. We are all (not just people with ‘autistic spectrum disorders’) ‘on the [neurodiverse] spectrum’, and human divergence needs to be understood, accepted and valued, rather than pathologised and treated to fix people who don’t fit prevailing norms. This has important historical echoes with the LGBTQ+ movement which de-pathologises homosexuality, bisexuality and transsexuality and values sexual and gender diversity rather than ‘treating’ sexual and gender divergents as sick.
We have many zines in our MadZines collection that speak directly to experiences of neurodivergency. These might be called Autizines.
These zines sit comfortably within our Madzines collection as they often contest ideals of neurotypicality and assumptions of normality. Perhaps not surprisingly, Autizines overlap with Madzines, as well as Queer zines, in significant ways.
Many neurodivergent people have been misunderstood, judged and pathologised, by society and, more specifically by mental health systems, and this has often resulted in considerable distress and harm. Given the way that practices of sanism, psycho-social disablism, heterosexism and transphobia affect our expression of psychological, neurological, sexual and gender diversity, it is not surprising Mad, Queer and Neurodivergent experiences and identities often overlap. Zines often express this ‘intersectionality’ and many zinesters (such as Rachel Rowan-Olive and Steven Fraser) make zines which might simultaneously be considered mad, auti and queer.
We have also started to become aware that neurodiversity is apparent not only in our Madzines collection, but also within our research team, in our relationships with ourselves, each other, and the zines themselves. On a recent research trip to Morecambe, we (Hel, Jill and Tamsin) discussed what we might do with our developing Madzines collection. We each brought some Madzines to share with each other and discuss. During our conversation we realised that, through the individual differences in how we approach zines, we might constitute our own neurodivergent ecosystem. We’ve reproduced some of this conversation as we think it nicely illustrates our own divergencies and approaches to zines.
Hel: I think that Tamsin’s natural inclination is to draw and go and make zines. Yours, Jill, is to circulate them, and use them to bring people together and make connections with other things, and mine is to kind of hoard them and read them!
I have a strong sense that they need to be kind of preserved…there’s something about the ephemerality of zines that makes me want to protect them. Those zines that are now in our archive, if we’d just gone and handed them out to people then they wouldn’t be there any more! I get enormously anxious about losing them. I remember being like ‘Where’s that Dear GP zine!? I can’t find it!’ And at our Reimagining Mental Health event, I was worried people would take them away. And I was convinced that people had, but I see that you’ve still got them, which is fine. But I think that this difference somehow reflects our neurodivergency, our different ways of being with the zines we’ve got. Because, Jill, all ones that you’ve brought here are ones you’ve taken to things haven’t you? Like I remember you giving that one to Anna.
Am I right about this?
Tamsin: Yeah, if I think about the zines I’ve brought, quite a few are zines where the zinester has written in the zine about the process of making the zine.
I’m really interested in how people use zinemaking to record their thought process, or how zinesters try to use the zine itself to represent a particular way of experiencing something, like dissociation. So that fits doesn’t it, it’s about the creative process.
Jill: Yeah, and I suppose the ones I’ve brought are the ones I can make best use of. Part of me wanting to bring the zines together, to have this discussion today, was thinking how do we manage this body of material in the best way so that we can get what we want from it? We’re identifying some zines that feel like archetypal examples of a MadZine. If we’re getting this sense that some zines really exemplify what we are talking about, maybe there’s a small core of them that we should all have – almost like a little kernel of madzines that we can then share and talk about with other people. So we need a place to keep the zines, and engage with them – alone, together and with others – and we also need a way that they can move around because moving zines around is core to what our Madzines project aims to do.
Hel: And I think it’s difficult for one person to do all those things …so that’s why you need teams isn’t it? so different people can do different bits. I often think “oh, I’m just an anorak and all I do is detailed stuff and what use is that to anybody?” But then I also think, “well somebody has to do that stuff and then maybe other people can use it”. “If someone hasn’t gone through all the archives and found stuff and done that painstaking thing, there isn’t anything to work with”. So I keep trying to tell myself that there is something in that, that it’s useful. And if you can partner with people that make the stuff and circulate them then that makes the whole thing richer.
And I’m keen on the idea of them being restorative objects cos that kinda brings those things together. Cos they’re not just objects of study. They’re something that we’re hoping will actually make a change in the world. And in order to do that they have to be engaged with. So we need more than just somebody like me sitting in a dusty archive!
Jill: But you don’t just sit in a dusty archive you make Asylum magazine too! And that’s very interesting because each of us, in our own way, is taking stuff out. We are all, in our own ways, reaching out with zines.
Back at the neurodiversity event in Oxford, Anna Stenning quoted from Alex Dunedin’s recent Madzines blog (we’re loving the way that the blog posts, and bloggers, are starting to speak to one another): ‘‘Zines are a crafting tool to shape alternative universes in which people can live. They are living spaces that can hold qualities of connection and companionship; accessible to all, from the isolated thinker and feeler to the gregarious social explorer who sets out to discover others who share their thoughts and dreams, philosophies and crafts’.
Zines are, of course, not alone in functioning in that way. They are part of a vibrant polyculture, consisting of diverse artistic responses to experiences, including neurodivergencies. . We were fascinated to hear, in Oxford, from Liz Bell about Thinking Differently about Diversity – an audiovisual exhibition of artwork by people whose minds work ‘differently,’ exploring the role and value of diversity in nature and in society. The exhibition can be viewed online.
Hel and Jill spoke at the Oxford workshop, both reflecting on the ideas in this blog. Then, in the zine-making session, Hel decided to explore the idea of monotropism (‘a theory of autism developed by autistic people themselves’). This idea is helping Hel to understand, accept and value their particularly ‘neurodivergent’ approach to researching zines.
Meanwhile Jill cut up one of our Madzines intro zines, to make a new zine, Madzine research: an ecology that inspired this blog.
Interested in the ideas in this blog post? Please get in touch.