Question: It reminds me of something my GP said to me in ’98 – “we don’t like the term RSI – it has certain psycho-legal connotations”. Apart from wondering what he meant, I know also wonder what was going through his mind. I saw this on Amazon a while back and was highly intrigued by the title. Is it worth actually owning, Ellen, or will it make me even more bitter and twisted?
Answer 1: I’m considering buying a copy even though I’ve now read it. Lots of insights
Answer 2: I have finally got round to reading an interesting book called “RSI and the experts: the construction of medical knowledge” by Hilary Arksey. I hope she will not mind if I quote a rather long passage from the book. I found it quite enlightening and thought perhaps others on the list would too. “…the Australian Government won a significant victory in March 1987 when a Victorian Supreme Court jury found in favor of Susan Cooper’s employers, the Taxation Office in Melbourne. Shortly after the verdict, a judge gave approval for confidential legal advice to be published, advice which set out expert recommendations in respect of the tactics the Government ought to pursue when contesting claims for RSI damages. In essence, the lawyers ‘advised that the Government case should seek to create the impression that RSI [was] caused by mass hysteria’. Furthermore, they proposed that ‘every attempt be made to color the defense to allege a strong psychological component in the plaintiff’s complaints’….
“What is especially interesting…is what the legal advisors had to say with regard to expert opinion and the selection of ‘appropriate’ expert witnesses — witnesses who in essence had to support the view that RSI was psychologically based. In the event, five British experts were interviewed: two (an ergonomics specialist from Loughborough University of Technology and an HSE officer) were recommended as suitable Government witnesses, but three (two from Loughborough again; the third, the head of engineering at Birmingham University) did not meet the necessary parameters. The paradox was that one of those ‘ruled out’ was at the same me ‘ruled in’ in the sense that it was suggested he be ‘silenced’ by paying him a retainer if need be to prevent him giving evidence on behalf of Cooper….
“It is clear that advisors working for the Australian Government went to great lengths and expense (they trawled both Europe and North America) to seek out expertise. But the expertise they were looking for had to accord with how the Government intended to interpret to RSI. To this end, the lawyers needed a particular type of knowledge: one which constructed RSI-type disorders as a type of hysteria. And in the sense that the jury accepted the Government’s case they were successful in their endeavors…. What this example goes to show is the extent to which politics was being practiced: a particular knowledge was being (re)shaped and packaged for, in the particular case, legal consumption….”
I hadn’t realized that there had been an orchestrated plan to try to characterize RSI as “psychological”. Although it took place in Australia, no doubt it influenced the thinking (and the legal tactics) in other countries also. I wonder whether the GPs who dismiss RSI as psychological would be so comfortable with that argument if they knew that it had all been set up by a passel of lawyers!
The ISBN for the book is 1-85728-813-0 and it was published in 1998. I got it through Inter Library Loans. The source for the secondary quotes is given as Crawford, A., “Australian government advised to silence British expert”, _Health and Safety at Work_, August, pp.31-3.