Paranoia Network and Conference:Alternative communities and the disuption of pathology

Publication Type  Journal Article
Year of Publication  2007
Authors  Jacobson, M.; Zavos, A.
Journal Title  Journal of Critical Psychology
Volume  7
Issue  Number 1
Pages  28-39
Start Page  28
Journal Date  Spring 2007
Short Title  Paranoia Network and Conference
Publisher  PCCS Books
ISSN Number  1471-7646
Key Words  Paranoia; survivor’s network; deconstruction; alternative communities; social movements
Abstract  This paper focuses on the Paranoia Network as an example of current social movements engaged in resisting and creating alternative models to traditional western psycho/medical discourses and practices. The Paranoia Network is discussed as a political practice of resistance toward western notions of normality and pathology as well as an alternative community and an alternative to community. Methodological questions are raised as to the constructed nature and political function of the category of ‘paranoia’ within western medicalized psychological discourses. Based upon work of those involved in the Paranoia Network, specific directions for change are suggested including the further deconstruction of ‘pathological’ models of psychology and the validation of other, marginalized, forms and sources of knowledge outside of academia and the psycho/medical complex.
Notes  This article is only availible in the paper edition. If you would like a copy, please contact: Matthew Jacobson: Matthewja3 [at] yahoo [dot] com
Full Text  PARANOIA NETWORK AND CONFERENCE: ALTERNATIVE COMMUNITIES AND THE DISRUPTION OF PATHOLOGY Matthew Jacobson and Alexandra Zavos Abstract This paper focuses on the Paranoia Network as an example of current social movements engaged in resisting and creating alternative models to traditional western psycho/medical discourses and practices. The Paranoia Network is discussed as a political practice of resistance toward western notions of normality and pathology as well as an alternative community and an alternative to community. Methodological questions are raised as to the constructed nature and political function of the category of ‘paranoia’ within western medicalized psychological discourses. Based upon work of those involved in the Paranoia Network, specific directions for change are suggested including the further deconstruction of ‘pathological’ models of psychology and the validation of other, marginalized, forms and sources of knowledge outside of academia and the psycho/medical complex. Keywords: paranoia, survivor’s network, deconstruction, alternative communities, social movements I. Introduction In this paper we will be discussing the Paranoia Network, a survivors’ network , with the purpose of challenging and broadening notions of normality and pathology, community and entitlement, agency and political action. In the first section we will elaborate on some methodological considerations that enable us to highlight the constructed nature and political function of the category of ‘paranoia’ within western medicalized psychological discourses and the wider implications of such labeling practices. In the second section we will be engaging more directly with the Paranoia Network, its history and its construction as an alternative community and an alternative to community. We will then reflect upon the Paranoia Network as a political practice of resistance and the implications this holds for broadening our understanding of politics. The Paranoia Network Conference will be discussed as a concrete site of such practices of resistance and subversion. In conclusion we will offer some suggestions about rethinking these practices and our involvement with them. We will be referring to ‘paranoia’, not as an objective, measurable and manageable condition, located in the individual, but rather as a culturally and historically constructed discursive category which figures prominently in western medical/psychological discourses, but which is also controversially articulated in wider public discourses to both legitimize and counter particular regimes of social control. In this sense the notion of ‘paranoia’ can be strategically enlisted to render suspect and questionable practices of permeating regulation and collective manipulation located within psychological practices and the broader political spectrum, articulated for example around the politics of ‘terrorism’ as collective, yet invisible, threat. Turning the paranoia problem around, we can ask whether we are suspicious enough about what kind of social engineering we are subjected to and implicated in . From the start we would like to emphasize our political outlook. We believe the institutionalized practice of ‘pathologization’ of people and groups into ‘mentally ill’ and ‘mentally sane’ should be dismantled, as has been the case with other practices of overt discrimination .The practice of social care should be part of an openly contested public debate without the domination of private for-profit medical/psychological interests. The privatization of social care should be replaced with public, collective, and participatory systems in which inclusive debates may occur with those interested and invested in these areas of social concern. Anything short of this level of address risks recuperation under the banner of being 'critical' while further entrenching and systemizing what we consider to be the discriminatory, exploitive, and oppressive legitimization of psychological practice . In the next section we will focus on the example of ‘paranoia’ as problematic and contested subsystem of psychological discourses and practices. SECTION 1: ‘PARANOIA’ AND ITS DISCONTENTS I. Some Methodological Considerations: 'Othering' and pathologizing. 'Paranoia' as a categorical psychological construction is one of a series of 'types' defined and regulated by western psychiatry (DSM IV; 1994) . The act of diagnosing and pathologizing individuals occurs within western historical colonial traditions of constructing particular 'differences' as perverse, less valuable, in need of correction, threatening, illegal, and 'sick' in relation to more centralized dominant western patriarchal values and beliefs (Gilbert, 1997; Said, 1974). This occurs as a kind of double process whereby an ‘other’, that appears not to share ‘our’ common codes, beliefs and versions of reality, is constructed and furthermore pathologized, discriminated against and at times even incarcerated. The critical methodological (and thus political) move is to 'turn the camera' and make the object of focus the production of ‘mental illness’ as a systemic and ideological practice examining how the theories and practices exist, are sustained, and embedded within larger systems of investment and regulation (Henriques, 1984; Parker, 2003). II. Deconstructing the Medical/ Psychological Complex: the case of paranoia “The man who claims that secret meetings are being held about him may well be accurately describing the many meetings in which various mental health workers will discuss him. The person who says that people are stealing their thoughts, while being compulsorily administered neuroleptics is about as close to the truth as one can get”(Knight,2002, p.1). Traditional psychological discourses are based upon a model of ‘individual pathology’ and concretized within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and/or the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-9) . These psycho/pathologizing codes construct binary systems of ‘normal vs. abnormal’ which effectively divide and privilege certain ‘professionals’ with the right to speak for, define, confine, and manage those that find themselves positioned as the ‘subjects’ and ‘objects’ of psychology (Szasz, 2001). This act of psychological pathologization is political by definition and its ‘claim to truth’ effectively denies its constructive agency while obscuring its ideological investments and the entitlements of its institutions (Zizek, 1989) . As with other forms of institutionalized discrimination, the practices of pathologization are legitimized under the name of ‘science’ and ‘humanitarian’ concern in spite of the common clinical awareness that the definitional categories of psychological pathology do not replicate even among their own clinicians (Kitzinger, 1990). Furthermore, we would suggest that psychological inscriptions often function primarily to support the economic and social management agendas of dominant institutions which construct and sustain these categorical labels (Parker, 1999) . Within this ‘economy of pathology’ paranoia becomes a type of product or commodity functioning in particular ways within the Psychology market (Moncrieff, 1997). In this section we will briefly highlight particular dimensions of the psychological construction of 'paranoia' and how these may be rearticulated and relocated within broader and more accessible spaces of social/political debates. a. ‘Paranoia’ (re)located in the ‘social’. "A major part of such analyses (discursive) then is the seeking out of that which is silenced and subjugated, for example the views of the users of psychiatric services and the explicit acknowledgement of the interplay between professional and popular and the psychiatric service users views" (Harper, 1999,sec 3.5 ) The traditional category of paranoia is defined as a person experiencing delusions and ‘unwarranted’ suspicions (Harper, 1999). Psychology constructs 'paranoia' as an 'object' within the 'individual'. It invests a clinician with the authority to identify, define, and locate 'paranoia', as well as suggest or mandate techniques and regulations to 'treat' the individual. In contrast, a critical social analysis of paranoia sees the very formulation and use of the label of ‘paranoia’ as a process of social inscription involving the negotiation of definitions and regulations of experience and behavior within particular groupings and configurations of class, gender, and race. This type of social analysis focuses on the micro-conversational interaction between clinician and client as well as the larger discursive and structural analysis of particular power relations in the context of social care. The specific inscription of ‘paranoia’ occurs as a social negotiation between clinician and client, of what is considered and identified as plausible or 'real' (Georgaca, 2004; Harper, 1999). These clinical negotiations occur within unbalanced power relations in which the clinician is granted the ultimate authority to define what constitutes 'reality' and 'normality', and the power to mandate forms of treatment based upon their ‘assessments’. With no alternative discourses to access, 'service users' face a bind in which they often must participate in their own 'pathologization’ to access services . If clients attempt to challenge and address the institutional agendas or their ‘assigned’ labels they in turn risk ‘losing services’. In the case of psychiatric 'incarceration' , clients who are angry or argumentative concerning their care or the subservient position they are given face the threat of being forced to take higher or stronger doses of medication against their will decreasing their ability to direct their own 'treatment'. The alternative for the clinical 'subject' is to integrate and internalize these pathologizing identifications and discourses in exchange for the rewards of assimilation and conformity within social care systems (Burchell, 1996) . Without challenge these practices constitute a politics of 'pathology' that remains invisible and outside of current debate. We would suggest this ‘silencing’ of the challenges to pathological models of ‘reality’ is one of the dimensions of psychology which draws warranted suspicion and interrogation. b. 'Paranoia’ within broader systems of ideological and material reproduction. Beyond locating the construction of 'paranoia' within interactional and negotiated spaces of the micro-social, we also need to interrogate the larger systems of investment within the Psychology industry (Rose, 1999, 1996; U’ren, 1997). Western psychology holds a literal monopoly over the practice of social care effectively marginalizing resistances and challenges to its definitions and methods of practice. We are arguing that psychology is a central cultural form of social regulation not only in regards to those directly subjugated as patients or clients, but more extensively in articulating and naturalizing a general ‘psycho/pathological’ system of signification. Thus the invention of ‘normality’, as legitimized by ‘objective’ science, privileges certain discourses with the authority to articulate definitional borders as to who can speak and what is allowed to be discussed within particular contemporary social/political debates . The overarching ideological structures of western liberal capitalism, as illustrated e.g. in the discourses of ‘democratic free markets’ and ‘free consumers’, constellate and organize contemporary psychological practice and are central in formulating the definitions, scope, and standards of psychological care . We would argue that the psychologization of social care ‘works’ precisely because it: 1) produces forms of subjectivity characterized by the 'inadequate individual' in need of particular types of psychological products and treatment regimes and 2) has successfully marginalized and/or recuperated major alternative discourses to psychology. This ‘psychologization’ of modern Western culture has become increasingly pervasive as drug and insurance companies, hospitals, educational systems, psychiatrists, corporations, community groups, family members, and legal bodies of regulation have all become enlisted in the 'business' of producing and managing psychological ‘health’. c. The politics of suspicion: (global and local) intersections between pathologizing regulation and management of violence. Are we too suspicious, warranting diagnosis and treatment, or are we not suspicious enough? "The position of "paranoia” tends to be granted to those with little access to power such as fringe political groups or isolated individuals. Those in powerful social positions can adopt a discourse of distrust without fear of being called paranoid". (Harper, 1999, Sec 3.5). There are critical intersections and associations constructed between the discourses of violence and ‘paranoia’, as evoked fears of violence are blurred with constructions of 'mental illness' and integrated within legalized forms of social control such as occur in the involuntary incarceration of those diagnosed as dangerous and mentally ill (Foucault, 1969) . In the case of the politics of ‘paranoia’ these intersections are central if we are to understand how ‘suspicion’ is not only warranted but likely functional and necessary for individuals whose beliefs and attitudes are considered ‘abnormal’ by psychiatric standards. Key factors in deciding who becomes a ‘client’ in psychiatric systems may often have less to do with content of their beliefs and more to do with social and class status including their ability to effectively negotiate the dynamics of psychological and legal systems. Once an individual is inscribed as an 'involuntary' client they effectively lose the right to question, challenge, and refuse psychological intervention. Thus pathologizing labels are used as a kind of legalized psychological ‘currency’ in efforts to maintain what certain privileged political bodies consider as standards for secure and safe ‘communities’ . We might ask how the experience of suspicion or 'paranoia' relates to the threat of categorical marginalization and pathologizing 'subjectification', particularly when there may be little or no political recourse or available discourses from which to articulate opposing or alternative positions (Knight, 2002). If alternative beliefs and perspectives towards 'pathology' cannot be expressed without reprisal then suspicion of those who are in power becomes a reasonable and ‘realistic’ perspective for those who find themselves identified as subjects and objects of clinical attention . SECTION 2: FROM THEORY TO PRACTICE AND BACK AGAIN There are varying forms of resistance across continents and within various local contexts challenging western psychological ideologies and practices. While the United States psychological industry is almost totally privatized with minimal degrees of social accountability, the UK has historically been a progressive leader in critical psychological activism and grass roots alternatives to mainstream psychological practices (Thomas and Bracken, 2001; 2004). In the next section we will focus on the specific example of the Paranoia Network and the Paranoia Conference as models and examples of the active reframing and construction of alternative spaces of articulation to traditional psychological systems and practices. I. Brief History and Description of the Paranoia Network Originating from the UK based Hearing Voices Network and earlier critical efforts from the 60's and 70's in the UK, the Paranoia Network constructs a forum from which opposing discourses concerning psychiatric models of paranoia can be presented, debated, and discussed . The Paranoia Network was launched in Barnsley UK with meetings over the 10th, 11th and 12th of November 2003 with users and survivors of services as well as clinicians and academics. It is based on the successful work of the Sheffield Paranoia Group and the empirical research carried out by Tamasin Knight in Exeter (Terence McLaughlin, “Launch of the Paranoia Network”, 2004). Among the practices of the Paranoia Network it is worth mentioning the setting up of local self-help groups, the development of training for professionals, service users and the wider public, the organization of conferences that bring together ‘experts’ and survivors committed to producing, claiming and disseminating ‘other’ knowledge’s as equally valid accounts to dominant scientific ones about what paranoia is(n’t) and what kinds of interventions, if any, are warranted. II. The PNC conference The first Paranoia Network Conference, organized by the Paranoia Network, Asylum Magazine, and the Discourse Unit at Manchester Metropolitan University, took place on the 24th of July 2004 at Manchester Metropolitan University. The organization of the event as a joint academic and non-academic project, with the participation of academics, practitioners, users and survivors, located within the institutionalized space of the university, served to decentralize traditional hierarchies of knowledge, dislocating positions of expertise and authority. The exchange of practical information about how to set up local paranoia network groups and links to other sites of resistance and support were an important resource for the mobilization of alternative practices. Some of the main points brought out by founding members of the Paranoia Network, Tamasin Knight, Chris Molloy, Peter Bullimore and Rufus May, presenting at the conference, were that: - Rather than 'paranoia' we could choose to refer to 'unusual beliefs', thereby indicating our acceptance of different understandings of reality. - Recounting personal experience is important. We need to normalize the experience of paranoia; we have all been and felt paranoid at various points in our life. - Taking our life back from the system allows us to responsible for our life not the system. - Turning the lens around we should ask what are the paranoid mechanisms of society. E.g. educational systems based on antagonistic principles. We need to privilege personal experience as a testimonial of injustice so as to reclaim the concept of 'paranoia'. Film was also used as a parallel process and platform enabling participants to construct public discourses. Interviews were conducted with any participants that were interested. The filming itself became a medium, metaphor and methodology for destabilizing academic performances, enabling a broad range of participants, previously unknown to us, to take voice and recount their personal stories and accounts, as part of the ongoing narratives of the conference. III. The Paranoia Network as Alternative Community and Alternative to Community. In this section we would like to access some of the current debates in the field of social geography and the study of urban social movements (Massey, 1994; Amin and Thrift, 2002; Castells, 1983), to propose an alternative framework for reading the practices of movements such as the Paranoia Network. These practices rely upon yet also transgress and transform more traditional conceptualizations of community as a territorially bounded, natural, universal and historically consistent unit and allow us to imaginatively construct alternatives to community and alternative communities that encompass the flows and intersections of multiple identifications, social networks and actions which acquire a non-local(ized) political dynamic. Community, in a territorial sense, is articulated to notions of place as a bounded, culturally and socially homogeneous, unified entity with a distinct continuity in time and space, i.e. a particular grounded history. However, as Benedict Anderson’s (1983) seminal work on the construction of nations as imagined communities has illuminated, such conceptualizations far from being natural, universal and eternal, can be traced as emerging at a particular moment in western history and serve specific political purposes, not least of which are the legitimization of territorially defined socio-political sovereignty and rule over a body politic and the recognition of citizenship – with all the rights and entitlements this entails – to particular bodies within this territory, and the establishment of a symbolic and material sense of belonging. In various discourses, community figures as a trenchline against the multiple destabilizing forces of accelerating globalization. While idealized notions of community often serve to suppress or hide severe economic and socio-cultural inequalities within different populations, they also establish and legitimize a set of symbolic and material boundaries to delineate a privileged and imaginary ‘inside’ to an encroaching or threatening ‘outside’. In considering the impact and invocation of notions of ‘community, work and family’ on contemporary social relations and their psychological implications, it is important to destabilize the ‘naturalness’, ‘givenness’ or inherent, essential ‘goodness’ usually associated with them, and thereby also the constructions of inside/known, familiar/entitled and outside/strange/not-entitled as objective spaces that legitimize the differential recognition and exercise of rights. Drawing on current debates in social geography about thinking space, place and identity relationally (Massey, 2004; Amin, 2004), we argue that what constitutes a community is not necessarily its historical and territorial integrity. If we embrace the relational construction of places and spaces, as internally complex, essentially unboundable and historically changing nodes in a global network of flows, movements and interrelations, the notion of community can be deterritorialized and disassociated from a given place to include relations based on commonality of interests, resistances and struggles, practices and common identifications. What is exercised here is the potential of agency in choosing to belong or not, and on what terms, not only as regards the relations within the group but with other groups and networks as well. It is this notion of community, as a community of a relationally constructed identity and a community of practice that we wish to apply to the Paranoia Network. In this sense the PN is a non-local, heterogeneous, dispersed, flexible, fragmented, intersecting community based on a common identity or membership of resistance towards mainstream, medicalized and pathologizing mental health practices, discourses and institutions. The survivor identity its members evoke is an identity of resistance that should be inscribed within the broader context of social (grassroots) movements (Castells, 1983). Its members aim to reclaim a space of freedom, self-determination, choice and agency against a socio-political regime of oppression, regulation and disenfranchisement that is articulated through the institutions of medicine and psychology. A community of identity is significant precisely because it signals both the constructed nature of any community identification as well as the possibility of taking and using power, even by those who have been allocated to positions of powerlessness. IV. Paranoia Network as Political Practice- Social Movement? By challenging institutional mental health practices, policies and ideologies, the Paranoia Network is constituted as political praxis. It offers an example of political action originating in and intended to transform every day lived realities, in a very concrete and material way, drawing on and changing conceptualizations of ‘self’, connectedness, and community. Here we would like to focus on two implications of this proposed re-inscription: a. The Paranoia Network as Political Action What constitutes the Paranoia Network as political action is its engagement in the production of counter-knowledge’s, discourses and practices about the ‘self’ and its regulation that challenge those institutionalized by the medical establishment, whose function is in conjunction with other state sanctioned institutions, to define and control, on the basis of notions of accountability, who is a person. In this sense people who have been diagnosed as mentally ill are not only disempowered and marginalized, they are further dispossessed of their status and integrity of personhood; they are framed as non-persons, denied the rights and entitlement accorded to ‘normal’ citizens. Reinscribing experiences of different states of consciousness within the realm of the possible (i.e. within the available discourses, within language) challenges the concept of normality and the institutions and practices that reproduce and regulate them. When the concept of ‘normality’ is revealed as a normative rather than merely an objectively descriptive concept, a wider range of positions becomes available. Moreover, resignifying their identification from mental health patients to survivors, allows the articulation and enactment (performance) of a subjectivity that resists the pathologized positions accorded by oppressive institutional structures to those defined as mentally ill contesting the power of experts and professionals to define and regulate health and illness. Rather than accepting dominant western constructions of selfhood around notions of rationality, individual responsibility and competence, the Paranoia Network – through its practice - claims collective agency, discursively constructed, emerging at the intersection of multiple and contradictory narratives drawn from culturally available repertoires, as central to the practice of personhood. b. Broadening the political The PN broadens our understanding of the Political beyond its traditional configurations into anti-systemic, anti-state political organizations, movements and ideologies. It cuts through institutionalized political practices and discourses through its re-politicization of subjectivity, that is articulated: - as situated yet non-local politics - as a daily practice: the Paranoia Network establishes a practice of resistance that informs those aspects of life which are most integral to notions of personhood. - as ‘the personal is political’: stemming from and privileging direct personal experience, not abstract alignment with ideas about social justice etc. - as grassroots movement intersecting and crossing multiple social categories and boundaries (gender, race, class, age, ability, ethnicity) Conclusion: Implications and Responsibilities Public representatives, academics and professionals within the field of social services have an ethical responsibility to reformulate and open up the social/political ethics of their profession to public debate and control. The suspicion and mistrust of psychological practices will decrease as Psychology’s ethics and political investments become more transparent and open to diverse public debates and challenges. In furthering efforts towards re-democratizing social care we would encourage that social care is reformulated through the construction of open systems of collective management and ongoing public discussion as to the goals and methods of care appropriate to different geographical and social regions. Providing and supporting the development of clearly articulated alternative knowledges and practices, the elimination of the privatized psychological industry, as well as prioritizing funding for alternative systems of care should be central demands within our campaigns and agendas. References American Psychiatric Association (1994) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: Text Revision DSM IV-TR. American Psychiatric Association; Washington D.C. Amin, A. 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Philosophy, Psychiatry, and Psychology. Special Issue: Delusions. Vol 11, No.1. Gilbert, B. M.; Stanton, G.; Moley, W. (1997) Postcolonial Criticism. Longman: London. Harper, D. (1999) Deconstructing Paranoia. Ph.D. thesis. Manchester Metropolitan University; Manchester, U.K. Harper, D. (2004) Delusions and Discourse: Moving beyond the constraints of the Modernist Paradigm. Philosophy, Psychiatry, and Psychology. Special Issue: Delusions. Vol. 11, Num 1. Henriques, J.; Hollway, W.; Urwin, C.; Venn; C. ; Walkerdine, V. (1984). Changing the Subject: Psychology, social regulation, and subjectivity. Methuen; London and New York. Kitzinger, C. (1990) ‘The Rhetoric or Pseudoscience’. In Parker, I. and Shotter, J. (ed) Deconstructing Social Psychology. London; Routledge. Knight, T. (2002) ‘Can the mental health system cause paranoia?’ Asylum. Vol.13. #2. Massey, D. (1994), Space, Place and Gender, Cambridge: Polity Press. Massey, D. (2004), “Geographies of Responsibility”, in Geografiska Annaler, vol. 86 (B), p. 5 – 18. Moncrieff, J. (1997) ‘Psychiatric Imperialism: The Medicalization of Modern Living’. Soundings, Issue #6. Parker, I. (2003) "Psychology is so critical, only Marx can save us now". Paper delivered at the International Conference on Critical Psychology, Bath. U.K. Parker, I. (1999) ‘Critical Psychology: Critical Links’. Annual Review of Critical Psychology. Vol 1; pp.3-18. Rose, N. (1999) Powers of Freedom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Rose, N. (1996) Power and Subjectivity: Critical History and Psychology. In C.F. Grauman and K.J.Gergen, eds. Historical Dimensions of Psychological Discourse. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, MA. Said, E. (1978) Orientalism. London; Routledge and Kegan Paul. Szasz, T. (2001) Mental Illness: Psychiatry’s Phlogiston. Ideas on Liberty: Irvington on Hudson (51:11). Thomas, P. and Bracken, P. (2001) Post Psychiatry: A New Direction for Mental Health. British Medical Journal. Thomas, P. and Bracken, P. (2004) Critical Psychiatry in Practice: Advances in Psychiatric Treatment. Vol. 10; pp.361-370. U’ren R. (1997) ‘Psychiatry and Capitalism’. Journal of Mind and Behavior. 18 (1), pp.1-12. Zizek, S. (ed) (1989) "The Spectre of Ideology". Introduction to Mapping Ideology. London and New York; Verso. Matthew Jacobson, MS, has been a practicing mental health professional in the United States for the past twenty years. He recently completed a second master’s degree at Goldsmith’s College, London in the Media department focusing his thesis on political discourse in the legitimization of western practices of social domination. Address for correspondence: 1911 SE 20th Ave, Portland, Oregon 97214 USA. Email: Matthewja3 [at] yahoo [dot] com. Alexandra Zavos, MSc, is a postgraduate student at the Discourse Unit at Manchester Metropolitan University. She is currently working on narratives of migration and cities, focusing on gendered and racialized constructions of space and subjectivity. Address for correspondence: Department of Psychology and Speech Pathology, Manchester Metropolitan University, Hathersage Rd., Manchester M13 0JA, UK. Email: azavos [at] otenet [dot] gr.
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