Buying time: Mental health care and the commodification of the future

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This session will be held in a hybrid format, on Teams virtual platform and in the Doucy room

Speaker : Edward Kiely (University of Cambridge)

Title : Buying time: Mental health care and the commodification of the future

Abstract :

Following the 2008 financial crisis, countries across Europe introduced austerity programmes, using soaring debt levels to justify the slashing of state services. In the UK, successive governments made spending reductions which constituted the deepest cuts to social provision in since the foundation of the welfare state. These cuts were then redistributed and rescaled so that they fell disproportionately on local and regional levels of government which organise and provide social care.

Geographers have tended to interrogate the effects of cuts on people at the sharp end, including service users, families and staff. In contrast, my study is comparative, analysing a mental health day centre in the process of being cut alongside the bureaucrats doing the cutting, in one English local authority. I aim to understand how service cuts are made tenable – logically, morally and affectively – for those charged with wielding the knife.

In this paper, I argue that commissioners – that is, the bureaucrats who plan and deliver care services – frame the day centre as outmoded, a relic of the past. This temporal stigma works to discredit the service, justifying bureaucratic indifference and inattention. In turn, for the people who rely on the service, this renders the future uncertain. They are forced into fundraising activities which aim to ‘buy time’, commodifying their labour, in an attempt to purchase a secure future. Austerity works through these temporal processes to deepen ongoing neoliberalisation and commodification.


I am a PhD candidate at the Department of Geography, University of Cambridge. My research examines the remaking of mental health care under the UK austerity programme, and has been published in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. I am the co-convenor of Social Power and Mental Health, an ongoing collaboration with mental health survivors and activists in Cambridge, and my writing has been featured in publications including Vice.

  • When ?

Friday 13 May 2022 from 2:00 pm until 4:00 pm

  • Where ?

ULB - Campus du Solbosch

Institut de Sociologie (building S)

Room Doucy - 12th floor - Room 123

44 avenue Jeanne - 1050 Bruxelles

Conference also accessible via the Teams virtual platform - Registration: