The language of oppression- schizophrenia should not be used as an adjective for “split or conflicting”

As part of my masters I am trying to write about the language of oppression. I’m exploring the use of “Gay” as a synonym for rubbish being perceived as “not homophobic” by many because “language evolves”, ignoring the effect the use of such language may have on people who are LGBT.

During my masters research I found that De Palma & Atkinson (2010) p1670 chose to use the phrase “conceptual schizophrenia” to describe situations where there are inconsistencies in the legislation so that on the one hand they support people who are LGBT on the other hand they support homophobia. My wider reading also found Renold & Ringrose (2011) using the phrase “Schizoid subjectivities” to describe how girls negotiate discourses of knowingness and innocence. I’m sure there are plenty of other examples in academic and other literature, I don’t mean to single these two out other than they are two recent academic examples I have come across, I also have seen it lately used in a few blogposts or newspaper articles too.

Using schizophrenia as an adjective for something that is split or “or characterized by the coexistence of disparate or antagonistic elements.” (as one of the dictionary definitions is) only serves to oppress another group of people, those with schizophrenia. It serves to reinforce notions of split or antagonistic elements or the idea that schizophrenics have split personalities etc. It is harmful, unthinking and upsetting particularly when such things are written by people actively engaged in challenging other forms of oppression. Yes there maybe another dictionary definition that isn’t about “people” just like there is for “Gay” but that doesn’t make it okay to use it as an adjective to describe anything other than the person with that identity (and that you mean it as a descriptor not pejoratively!)

I’m mindful that this is written due to my own lived experience as a sibling of someone who is and always will be schizophrenic, and the stigma/misunderstandings that they/we have faced as a result of that. However I would argue that it is not so hard to try and think about the language you use and how it might affect groups of people you may only have very limited experience of. There are loads of other combinations of clever sounding academic words that could be used instead, juxtaposition, dicotomy, discord, conflicting,  non-concordance etc. which could be used to make your point equally well and make you sound just as clever.  All it takes is a little thought and care about the language you use and a willingness to think and change if you get it wrong (like I did when I initially spoke about “tolerance” of people who are LGBT).

Just some food for thought.

Happy Educating.


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