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GRADUATION: Honour for social scientist pursuing "mental health-friendly environments"

Nikolas Rose

Internationally renowned social scientist Professor Nikolas Rose attributes his unique approach to questions of ‘what it is to be human today – and tomorrow’ to the academic grounding he received as a University of Sussex student.

Nikolas, who founded and developed the Department of Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at King’s College London, was one of Sussex’s first graduates in Biology and Psychology - earning his degree 1968.

Since then, he has spent his career exploring how scientific developments in the psy sciences – psychology and psychiatry – and the life sciences – especially genetics and neuroscience – have changed our conception of what it is to be a human being, what we can expect from our lives, how we can manage our bodies and minds, and what this means for the ways we are governed by social, legal and political authorities.

He says: “My experience at Sussex – studying both biological sciences and social sciences - underpinned the interdisciplinary focus I have taken throughout my career. And, of course, I was there at a time of major political upheavals in the 1960s, which has led me to an abiding concern with the need to revise our ways of understanding political power.

“I have also been fortunate enough to head, and reshape, two leading university departments – Sociology at Goldsmiths and LSE -  and to found and build a whole new department at King’s committed to the kind of interdisciplinary ethos that is so important to me.”

Nikolas’s  work has been translated in to 13 languages and includes Governing the Soul: The Shaping of the Private Self, Powers of Freedom: reframing political thought, and  The Politics of Life Itself – books that established him as one of the most original and influential British social scientists.

He has explored social, ethical and political issues in emerging biotechnologies, working closely with world leading researchers in synthetic biology who are seeking to create novel organisms to produce food, drugs or fuel, and with the Human Brain Project, which aims to use pathbreaking research on the brain in areas ranging from dementia to artificial intelligence.

Recently his work has turned to the neurosciences and psychiatry.  In Neuro: The New Brain Sciences and the Management of the Mind, he interrogates the rise of the neurosciences and their implications for the social sciences and humanities. His most recent book Our Psychiatric Future: the politics of mental health shows that we need a new way of incorporating neuroscience into our ways of understanding and treating the forms of mental distress that are so clearly linked to social adversity.

“My friendship with many who had experienced severe mental difficulties led me to a lifetime commitment to challenging the ways in which mental disorders – and those who experienced them - were understood and treated,” he says.

“My focus has been on the social conditions and experiences that lead to mental distress, how those get inscribed into our bodies and our brains, how those who have experienced mental distress are contributing vital knowledge to our understanding of these processes, and how we might create ‘mental-health friendly’ environments  through changing the ways we support communities, organise schooling, structure employment and workplaces, shape our welfare systems, and plan our cities.”

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By: Jacqui Bealing
Last updated: Friday, 12 July 2019