One of the most enjoyable things about in the Critical Physiotherapy Network is the license it gives you to ask questions about the profession that other people might find ridiculous. There’s a long history of the study of stupidity and idiocy in philosophy (see Shaw 2016, for example), and I’d like to think we make some small contribution to that with our Network.
Look at our Objectives and you will see that it is part of our constitution to develop ‘a culture & appreciation for the exploration of all views that deviate from conventional thought & practice in physiotherapy’ (Object #4, link).
So in the spirit of asking ridiculous questions, I’ll confess that for some time now I’ve been thinking about what work means to physiotherapy.
It started with some research I was doing into the history of rehabilitation, and everyone seems to take it as read that one of the principal functions of rehab is to return people to ‘meaningful occupation’ (for which read ‘work’).
But I’ve also been thinking about how physiotherapy is fixated with seeing the body-as-machine, and our fascination with the idea that the body should ‘work’. Bodies that don’t work need fixing, and we would like to claim some authority here.
Likewise, we strongly believe that our assessment and treatment interventions should ‘work’, and promote evidence-based practice as our approach to show others that our stuff ‘works’.
I suppose my question is, why does it matter so much that things ‘work’?
Humour me for a moment, and ask yourself why it is that we think people should overcome their illness, impairment or disability and return to work? What is so wrong with people not working?
Why do we think that bodies should work? What’s wrong with bodies that don’t work? Why are we so intolerant to inability and suffering?
And why do our assessment strategies and treatments need to work?
Perhaps these aren’t such ridiculous questions though, because by asking them we are really asking why it is that we have set the limits of our professional tolerance here and not there, per se.
Georges Batailles – an infamous French philosopher – argued that we need to transgress social norms (particularly around the things that society finds most objectionable) in order to find out why we have set our limits of tolerance the way we have.
This is an important idea in critical thinking. Rather than taking for granted the everyday and obvious world we live in, George Deleuze, Georges Batailles, Avital Ronell and many other very deep thinkers believe there is some real merit in thinking a bit more like a court jester, and less like the rational scientist; even if it’s only for a short time.
Because to do so might mean that for the briefest moment you free yourself up to explore what the sane and rational world can no longer imagine.
Shaw, J. K. (2016). The life of an idiot: Artaud and the dogmatic image of thought after Deleuze. Theory, Culture & Society, 0263276416650723.
See also: Ronell, A. (2002). Stupidity. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.