Dr Jessie Munton is a Cambridge Early Career Fellow 2021-22 and will be at CRASSH in Michaelmas Term 2021.

The history of psychiatry is marked by a chronic inability to agree on a conceptual paradigm for making sense of its subject matter. What is the nature of a psychiatric problem? Is it a brain based, disease-like phenomenon, or is it a psychogenic “problem in living”? Is the word “illness” even appropriate? Over the course of the 20th century, a specific conceptual framework for understanding mental illness has become widely accepted, and familiarity with various diagnostic categories, such as “bipolar disorder”, “schizophrenia” or even “depression” has vastly increased. But according to a significant population of mental health clinicians, user-groups and activists, far from reflecting a natural reality, these terms are at best confused, at worst tools of oppression wielded by mental health professionals against those to whom they are applied. The debate is intractable and heated, and yet both sides have as their goal the interests of the same population. What explains this impasse?

I propose that this is a case of hermeneutic competition– when different members of a group endorse two or more incompatible hermeneutic frameworks, that is, frames for making sense of a certain experience or identity, which make or imply claims that are inconsistent with one another such that the success of one threatens the resources of the other. This project will elucidate the nature of hermeneutic competition, and then use it to shed light on a number of intransigent cultural debates. I aim to come to a better understanding of the ways in which dominant ideologies subordinate certain groups in part through the restriction of their hermeneutic resources and the subsequent generation of competition between their members.


I am a lecturer in the faculty of philosophy. My research mainly falls within epistemology, philosophy of mind and philosophy of psychology. I’m currently writing a book about prejudice, exploring the ways in which the organization of information, by our minds and by features of our environment, can constitute a form of prejudice. I am also interested in the nature of perceptual uncertainty, and the significance of temporal extension to visual experience. For further information about my research go to my website page.


Tel: +44 1223 766886