Course The phenomenology and normativity of mental health

ECTS: 2.5

Course leader: Karen Schriver

Language: English

Graduate school: Faculty of Arts

Course fee: 0.00 DKK

Status: Course is closed for applications

Semester: Spring 2023

Application deadline: 01/06/2023

Start date: 22/06/2023

Administrator: Henriette Jaquet


All students are placed on a waiting list until we reach the application deadline.

In this course, we will examine mental health and normality from a philosophical and sociological perspective. 

Mental illness could be termed an illness of experience. While most somatic illnesses can be diagnosed using biophysical markers (e.g. blood tests, scanning or X-rays), mental health cannot resort to such objective means of biomedical ratification. This means that subjectivity in terms of the patient’s experience of suffering plays a primary role in both diagnosis and treatment. Mental health can also be seen as a normative phenomenon. Although suffering is an inherent part of the human condition, how human beings make sense of, enact and act upon experiences of suffering vary across time and cultures, relative to societal norms. Within contemporary Western cultures, individual suffering, distress and/or problematic behaviours are increasingly conceptualised and dealt with within a biomedical and diagnostic framework. As the “language of suffering” (Brinkmann, 2014) offered through such frameworks spreads from the professional practices of medicine and clinical psychology into everyday lay culture, subjective experiences, interpretations and enactments of suffering and distress are increasingly informed and shaped by these biomedical frameworks.

On the first day of this two-day course, we will look at and discuss the phenomenology of mental health. René Rosfort will lead a discussion on the urgent biomedical, sociopolitical, and personal challenge that experience, identity, and ethics are intrinsically entangled in a person’s struggle with mental illness. 

On the second day, we will discuss how certain frameworks enable (and restrict) ways of thinking about, evaluating, experiencing, enacting and acting upon (mental) suffering and distress. On this day, Ester Holte Kofod will take a point of departure in her research on grief as a normative phenomenon, while the subsequent workshop will be structured as mutual feedback and discussion of the papers submitted by the participants ahead of the course.


Students will gain insight into both norms and subjective experiences of mental health. They will get feedback on their individual projects and be able to reflect on how this relates to concepts of mental health.


All students will be asked to read each others' project descriptions. They will also be asked to read the following curriculum:

Arango, Celso and Fraguas, David (2016). “Should psychiatry deal only with mental disorders without an identified medical aetiology?”. World Psychiatry 15 (1): 22-23.

Bartlett, Annie and Hollins, Sheila (2018). “Challenges and mental health needs of women in prison”. The British Journal of Psychiatry 212 (3):134-136.

Brinkmann, S. (2014). Languages of suffering. Theory & Psychology, 24(5), 630-648.

Brinkmann, S., Petersen, A., Kofod, E. H., & Birk, R. (2014). Diagnostic Culture – An analytical perspective on psychiatric diagnoses in contemporary society. Journal of Norwegian Psychological Association, 51, 692-697.

Fuchs, Thomas (2010): “Phenomenology and psychopathology”. In: Gallagher and D. Smicking (eds.), Handbook of Phenomenology and Cognitive Sciences. New York: Springer, pp. 546-573.

Hacking, Ian (1999): The Social Construction of What? Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, Ch. 4, pp. 101-125.

Johnstone, L., & Boyle, M. (2018). The Power Threat Meaning Framework: An Alternative Nondiagnostic Conceptual System. Journal of Humanistic Psychology.

Kinderman, Peter (2019). A manifesto for mental health: Why we need a revolution in mental health care. Cham: Palgrave MacMillan, Ch. 2, pp. 27-47.

Kirmayer, L. J. & Ryder, A. G. (2016). Culture and psychopathology. Current Opinion in Psychology, 8, 143–148.

Maj, Mario (2016). “The need for a conceptual framework in psychiatry acknowledging complexity while avoiding defeatism”. World Psychiatry 15 (1): 22-23

Popa, E. (2020). Mental health, normativity, and local knowledge in global perspective, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Volume 84.

Rose, N. (2009). Normality and pathology in a biomedical age. The Sociological Review, 57(s2), 66-83.

Rosfort, R. ”Phenomenology and hermeneutics”. In: Stanghellini et al. (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Phenomenological Psychopathology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 235-247.

Rosfort, R. ”Phenomenological Psychopathology and psychiatric ethics”. In: Stanghellini et al. (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Phenomenological Psychopathology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 972-986.

Stanghellini, Giovanni et al. (2019). ”Introduction”. In: Stanghellini et al. (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Phenomenological Psychopathology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 1-5.

Wakefield, J. C. (1998). The concept of mental disorder: On the boundary between biological facts and social values. American Psychologist, 47(3), 373-388.

Target group:

All PhD students with projects that are concerned with mental health, suffering or normality. We welcome students from both humanities and social and natural sciences.


The course will be taught in English unless all participants speak Danish.


The course will be a two-day course. There will be workshops each afternoon where students can discuss their individual projects with the lecturers and the rest of the group.

ECTS credits:

2,5 ECTS points

This includes approximately 200 pages of readings, preparing a project description, reading each others' project descriptions, and participating actively in the two course days. 


Ester Holte Kofod,
About the lecturer: Ester Holte Kofod is a licenced psychologist and PhD from Aalborg University, where her work has been affiliated with the research projects Diagnostic Cultures ( and The Culture of Grief ( Her research concerns the intersections between individual suffering and sociocultural conditions, i.e., how e.g. grief experiences are mediated through norms and practices concerning health, wellbeing and illness.

René Rosfort,
About the lecturer: Rene is an associate Professor at The Søren Kierkegaard Research Centre and at the Department of Systematic Theology at the University of Copenhagen. His primary fields of research include psychopathology, ethics, naturalism, hermeneutical phenomenology, philosophy of emotion, Kant, Kierkegaard, and Ricoeur. He is currently involved in research involving Kierkegaard, Kant, psychopathology, philosophy of existence, imagination, naturalism and ethics.


Please contribute with a text of 2-4 pages when you register. The paper should describe your project and line out how it relates to mental health. We will form a curriculum of texts during the course that forms part of the preparation for the course for all students. You will get verbal feedback from the course leaders and from your peers. The paper should include:
- the problem/research question of the project
- research interests and a short description of the design of the investigation
- short description of the theory that you use
- the dilemmas and main questions you are preoccupied with in relation to mental health
- any specific questions or considerations for the lecturers/peers

You are also welcome to send the text after the registration to Karen Schriver no later than 5 June 2023. You just have to upload a blank paper.


Campus Aarhus, TBA

Course dates:

  • 22 June 2023 09:00 - 16:00
  • 23 June 2023 09:00 - 16:00