Posts Tagged ‘ History of Psychiatry ’

New issue: History of Psychiatry

home_coverThe September 2016 issue of History of Psychiatry is now out and includes a number of articles that may be of interest to H-Madness readers.

The issue also contains the classic text, “Joseph Maxwell on mediumistic personifications” presented by Carlos Alvarado, as well as a number of book reviews.

Full titles and abstract below.


Tsutomu Kumazaki
Theory of mind is a prominent, but highly controversial, field in psychology, psychiatry, and philosophy of mind. Simulation theory, theory-theory and other views have been presented in recent decades, none of which are monolithic. In this article, various views on theory of mind are reviewed, and methodological problems within each view are investigated. The relationship between simulation theory and Verstehen(understanding) methodology in traditional human sciences is an intriguing issue, although the latter is not a direct ancestor of the former. From that perspective, lessons for current clinical psychiatry are drawn.


Fatih Artvinli
The Ottoman Empire, which encompassed a vast territory, had several facilities for the protection and treatment of the mentally ill. By the late nineteenth century, some wealthy families had begun to send their patients to mental hospitals in Europe for better treatment. During the same period, the process of repatriation of mental patients who were Ottoman subjects also began. These processes, which resulted in complex bureaucratic measures, later found a place in regulations and laws. The Ottoman Empire had an additional incentive to protect mentally-ill patients during the Second Constitutional Era, when discussions about ‘citizenship’ reappeared. This article examines the practices of sending mentally-ill people to Europe and the repatriation of mentally-ill Ottoman subjects from European countries.


João M Vaz
Memory is both ubiquitous and persona non grata in the work of Eugène Minkowski. Despite the relevance of memory in the works of those who influenced him, in particular Bergson, Minkowski nonetheless repeatedly overlooked its importance in his writings. To the reader of his work this fact is as much evident as unaccounted for – both by prior research and by Minkowski himself. I shall try to prove that this disregard for memory was conditio sine qua non of Minkowski’s first synthesis of Bleuler and Bergson in a 1921 article, which resulted in his famous concept of loss of vital contact with reality and which he equated with schizophrenia. Moreover, this historical approach will, on the one hand, explain the fragmentary use made by Minkowski of the philosophy of Bergson and, on the other, shed light on central aspects of his Le temps vécu of 1933 that an exclusively philosophical analysis cannot reveal.


Matthew Oram
Over the 1950s and early 1960s, the use of the hallucinogenic drug lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) to facilitate psychotherapy was a promising field of psychiatric research in the USA. However, during the 1960s, research began to decline, before coming to a complete halt in the mid-1970s. This has commonly been explained through the increase in prohibitive federal regulations during the 1960s that aimed to curb the growing recreational use of the drug. However, closely examining the Food and Drug Administration’s regulation of LSD research in the 1960s will reveal that not only was LSD research never prohibited, but that the administration supported research to a greater degree than has been recognized. Instead, the decline in research reflected more complex changes in the regulation of pharmaceutical research and development.


Armin Schäfer
This article discusses both the use of graphology in German psychiatry (1870–1930) and the use of handwriting in psychiatric experiments. The examination of handwriting was part of an ensemble of diagnostic tools. Although disorders of handwriting seemed to indicate psychic diseases, graphology did not seem the right method to produce valid observations. Nevertheless, psychiatrists began to incorporate the process of writing into research and diagnosis and to make the process of handwriting an experimental field. Emil Kraepelin invented an apparatus – the so-called Writing-Scale – with which he could measure the dynamics of writing in various dimensions and, in particular, the pressure of movements. The experiments produced a huge amount of data, but the psychiatrists were unable to interpret them in a comprehensible way. Although psychiatrists failed to grasp the psychopathology in handwriting, they discovered a systemic behaviour of the organism controlled by feedback.


Jacinthe Flore
This article examines the problematization of sexual appetite and its imbalances in the development of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The dominant strands of historiographies of sexuality have focused on historicizing sexual object choice and understanding the emergence of sexual identities. This article emphasizes the need to contextualize these histories within a broader frame of historical interest in the problematization of sexual appetite. The first part highlights how sexual object choice, as a paradigm of sexual dysfunctions, progressively receded from medical interest in the twentieth century as the clinical gaze turned to the problem of sexual appetite and its imbalances. The second part uses the example of the newly introduced Female Sexual Interest/Arousal Disorder in the DSM-5 to explore how the Manual functions as a technique for taking care of the self. I argue that the design of the Manual and associated inventories and questionnaires paved the way for their interpretation and application as techniques for self-examination.


John Cutting, Maria Mouratidou, Thomas Fuchs, and Gareth Owen
Kurt Schneider (1887–1967) met Max Scheler (1874–1928) in 1919 when he enrolled in the latter’s philosophy seminars at the University of Cologne. Kurt Schneider was then a junior psychiatrist and Max Scheler a renowned philosophy professor and co-founder of the phenomenological movement in philosophy. We uncover the facts about their intellectual and personal relationship, summarize the main articles and books that they wrote and consider whether Max Scheler did influence the young Kurt Schneider. We conclude that Scheler’s philosophy of emotion impressed Schneider, and that the latter’s notion of ‘vital depression’ as the core element in melancholia was essentially applied Schelerian philosophy. Schneider’s more celebrated contributions to psychiatry – his notion of first rank symptoms of schizophrenia – owed nothing to Scheler or any other philosopher.


Marco Cascella
In 1891 the Italian psychiatrist Enrico Morselli (1852–1929) described taphophobia, defining it as an extreme condition of claustrophobia due to the fear of being buried alive. This rare psychopathological phenomenon reflects an ancient fear, and its origin is not known. Taphophobia is closely linked to the problem of apparent death and premature burial. In the nineteenth century, scientists and authors paid particular attention to the issue of apparent death, and special devices (safety coffins) were invented to ensure that premature burial was avoided. Nowadays taphophobia is quite a rare psychiatric disorder; different forms of social anxiety disorders are much more widespread. Its modern equivalent could be the fear of organs harvested from a patient who is still alive.

To access the full issue, click here.

Fall 2016 Richardson History of Psychiatry seminars at Weill Cornell Medical College (NYC)

Screenshot from 2016-01-06 06-20-36

Current Program Schedule

Fall 2016

The Richardson History of Psychiatry Research Seminar
Convenes on the 1st & 3rd Wednesdays from September through May

2:00 PM Baker Tower Conference Room F-1200

September 7
Katja Guenther, M.D., Ph.D., Princeton University
“The Material Mirror: Contextualizing Lacan”
September 14
Issues in Mental Health Policy
September 21
Nima Bassiri, Ph.D., University of Chicago
“Hysterical Imposters: The Forensic Anxieties of Simulation Disorder in Nineteenth-Century Neurology”
October 5
Mark Micale, Ph.D. University of Illinois
Stevens-Barchas Lecture
“Toward a Global History of Trauma”
October 19
James Strick, Ph.D., Franklin and Marshall College
“Wilhelm Reich’s Bion Experiments, 1936-1939”
November 2
Hannah Zeavin, Doctoral Candidate, New York University
“The Far Voice: The Rise of the Psycho-Religious Hotline”
November 16
Alexandra Bacopoulos-Viau, Ph.D., McGill University
“Trauma and the “Narrative Turn”: Critical Perspectives”
November 30
Issues in Mental Health Policy
December 7
Joseph Aguayo, Ph.D., FIPA, Psychoanalytic Center of California
“Reconsidering the Contributions of Wilfred Bion and Donald Winnicott:
Small Group Conflict and Conceptual Clashes: 1960-1979”
December 21
No Seminar — Holiday Party

* PLEASE NOTE: Space is limited. Attendance by permission only.

For more information, click here.

New issue: History of Psychiatry

HIst of Psych coverThe March 2016 issue of History of Psychiatry is now online. It contains a number of articles and a classic text, all outlined below, as well as an Obituary for Professor John Forrester.

“Psychogeriatrics in England in the 1950s: greater knowledge with little impact on provision of services” (Claire Hilton)

In the 1950s, the population aged over 65 years continued to increase, and older people occupied mental hospital beds disproportionately. A few psychiatrists and geriatricians demonstrated what could be done to improve the wellbeing of mentally unwell older people, who were usually labelled as having irreversible ‘senile dementia’. Martin Roth demonstrated that ‘senile dementia’ comprised five different disorders, some of which were reversible. These findings challenged established teaching and were doubted by colleagues. Despite diagnostic improvements and therapeutic successes, clinical practice changed little. Official reports highlighted the needs, but government commitment to increase and improve services did not materialize.

“The nature of delusion: psychologically explicable? psychologically inexplicable? philosophically explicable? Part 2” (J Cutting and M Musalek)

The first part of this article dealt with the extant formulations of delusion, psychiatric and psychological, suggestions which, respectively, regard delusion as psychologically inexplicable or explicable. All this was subjected to critique. This second part puts forward informed philosophical thesis whereby delusion can be explained within the philosophical movement known as phenomenology and, in particular, Max Scheler’s version of this.

Psychiatric governance, völkisch corporatism, and the German Research Institute of Psychiatry in Munich (1912–26). Part 1 (Eric J EngstromWolfgang Burgmairand Matthias M Weber)

This is the first of two articles exploring in depth some of the early organizational strategies that were marshalled in efforts to found and develop the German Research Institute of Psychiatry (Deutsche Forschungsanstalt für Psychiatrie) in 1917. After briefly discussing plans for a German research institute before World War I, the article examines the political strategies and networks that Emil Kraepelin used to recruit support for the institute. It argues that his efforts at psychiatric governance can best be understood as a form of völkisch corporatism which sought to mobilize and coordinate a group of players in the service of higher biopolitical and hygienic ends. The article examines the wartime arguments used to justify the institute, the list of protagonists actively engaged in recruiting financial and political support, the various social, scientific and political networks that they exploited, and the local contingencies that had to be negotiated in order to found the research institute.

Psychiatric care at a national mental institution during the Spanish Civil War (1936–39): Santa Isabel de Leganés (Paloma Vázquez de la Torre and Olga Villasante)

The scanty research available regarding the health of the mentally ill during the Spanish Civil War is largely due to the loss of most documents, and to the difficulty in accessing the existing archives for decades. Up to the present time, historiography has described overcrowded facilities for the mentally disturbed and the fact that old buildings such as convents and spas were turned into establishments for treating patients with mental problems during the Civil War. However, research reviewing the institutional life and conditions of psychiatric patients during this war is still rather scarce.

The aim of our article is to discuss the characteristics of the patients at Santa Isabel National Mental Asylum between 1936 and 1939, as well as the functioning of this institution located in Leganés, a city to the south of Madrid (Spain). The method for this study includes a review of the medical records, statistical registers and other documents kept in the institution’s Historical Archive. In addition, using documents from other Spanish archives, as well as information obtained from contemporary and secondary sources, we attempt to describe similarities to and differences from other mental institutions.

Pavel Ivanovich Karpov (1873–1932?) – the Russian Prinzhorn: art of the insane in Russia (Vladimir LernerGrigory Podolskyand Eliezer Witztum)

The complicated relationship between the discipline of mental health and the arts has barely been studied systematically. Mental hospitals, shelters and prisons – institutions that accommodate the mentally ill – sometimes promote but often discourage and disrupt the patients’ artistic creativity and the images created. In psychiatric circles, the recognition of patient art was a long, slow and frustrating process. Among the Western psychiatrists who studied the creative activity of the mentally ill, researchers usually mention such names as C. Lombroso, M. Shearing, V. Morgentaller, H. Prinzhorn and others, but rarely refer to their Russian colleagues and contemporaries. Pavel Ivanovich Karpov (1873–1932?), a Russian psychiatrist, was one of the most extensive researchers in the field of the art of the insane, but unfortunately his name is little known among modern psychiatrists. For his clinical and scientific contributions, he deserves to be remembered in the history of psychiatry.

Bipolar disorder and its outcomes: two cohorts, 1875–1924 and 1994–2007, compared (Onome V AtigariMargaret HarrisJoanna Le Nouryand David Healy)

We compared admission rates and outcomes for bipolar disorder patients using the medical records of patients with a first hospital admission in 1875–1924 retrospectively diagnosed based on International Classification of Diseases (ICD)-10 criteria, and patients with a first admission in 1994–2007. The incidences of first admissions in the historical and contemporary periods are comparable: 1.2 and 1.3 per hundred thousand per year, respectively. Manic episodes constituted a greater proportion of admissions historically, while depressive episodes made up more in the contemporary sample. There is no evidence for a reduction in the mean inter-admission intervals with duration of illness. This study suggests that modern treatments may have decreased lengths of stay in hospital, but at a cost of contributing to more admissions. It also points to a shift in the threshold for admissions.

CLASSIC TEXT: ‘Report of the Committee on Mediumistic Phenomena’, by William James (1886)With an introduction by Carlos Alvarado

Mediumship was a topic of great interest to some nineteenth-century students of mental phenomena. Together with the phenomena of hypnosis and other manifestations, mediumship was seen by many as a dissociative phenomenon. The purpose of this Classic Text is to present an excerpt of an article about the topic that William James (1842–1910) published in 1886 in the Proceedings of the American Society for Psychical Research about American medium Leonora E. Piper (1857–1950). The article, an indication of late nineteenth-century interactions between dissociation studies and psychical research, was the first report of research with Mrs Piper, a widely investigated medium of great importance for the development of mediumship studies. In addition to studying the case as a dissociative experience, James explored the possibility that Piper’s mentation contained verifiable information suggestive of ‘supernormal’ knowledge. Consequently, James provides an example of a topic neglected in historical studies, the ideas of those who combined conventional dissociation studies with psychical research.

The issue also contains a number of book reviews and the John Forrester obituary.

To access it, click here.

New issue – History of Psychiatry

The September 2015 issue of History of Psychiatry is now available online. Titles and abstracts are below:

The discourse of the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM reflects the inherently dialogic or contradictory nature of its stated mandate to demonstrate both ‘nosological completeness’ and cultural ‘inclusiveness’. Psychiatry employs the dialogic discourse of the DSM in a one-sided, positivistic manner by identifying what it considers universal mental disease entities stripped of their cultural context. In 1992 the editors of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders proposed to introduce possession into their revisions. A survey of the discussions about introducing ‘possession’ as a dissociative disorder to be listed in the DSM-IV indicates a missed epistemological break. Subsequently the editors of the DSM-5 politically ‘recuperated’ possession into its official discourse, without acknowledging the anarchic challenges that possession presents to psychiatry as a cultural practice.

Today’s ‘theory of mind’ (ToM) concept is rooted in the distinction of nineteenth-century philosopher William Clifford between ‘objects’ that can be directly perceived and ‘ejects’, such as the mind of another person, which are inferred from one’s subjective knowledge of one’s own mind. George Romanes, a founder with Charles Darwin of the discipline of comparative psychology, considered the minds of animals as ejects, an idea that could be generalized to ‘society as eject’ and, ultimately, ‘the world as an eject’ – mind in the universe. Yet, Romanes and Clifford only vaguely connected mind with the abstraction we call ‘information’, which needs ‘a vehicle of symbols’ – a material transporting medium. However, Samuel Butler was able to address, in informational terms depleted of theological trappings, both organic evolution and mind in the universe. This view harmonizes with insights arising from modern DNA research, the relative immortality of ‘selfish’ genes, and some startling recent developments in brain research.

On the basis of unpublished materials, this essay reconstructs Jung’s seances with his cousin, Helene Preiswerk, which formed the basis of his 1902 medical dissertation, The Psychology and Pathology of so-called Occult Phenomena. It separates out Jung’s contemporaneous approach to the mediumistic phenomena she exhibited from his subsequent sceptical psychological reworking of the case. It traces the reception of the work and its significance for his own self-experimentation from 1913 onwards. Finally, it reconstructs the manner in which Jung continually returned to his first model and reframed it as an exemplar of his developing theories.

The activities of both Winifred Rushforth (1885–1983), and the Edinburgh-based Davidson Clinic for Medical Psychotherapy (1941–73) which she directed, exemplify and elaborate the overlap in Scotland of religious discourses and practices with psychoanalytic psychotherapy. Even as post-war secularization began to affect Scottish culture and society, Rushforth and the Davidson Clinic attempted to renew the biographical discourses of Christianity using the idioms and practices of psychoanalytic psychotherapy. Furthermore, alongside these Christian-inflected activities, Rushforth promoted a psychoanalytically-informed New Age spirituality. This parallel mode of belief and practice drew on Christian life-narrative patterns, preserving them within psychoanalytic forms grafted onto a vitalist worldview informed by the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

Those afflicted bark like dogs, scramble on all fours and loiter around graveyards – canine madness, referred to as kynanthropy, was an illness concept in its own right in the medicine of late antiquity. At roughly the same time as the medical description produced by Aëtius of Amida, the Syrian chronicler John of Ephesus, also from Amida, reported an epidemic of dog-like madness sweeping his home town in ad 560. The symptoms are identical and both authors are from Amida – what is the connection between the two depictions? In addition to the history of the medical concept, the example of the canine madness of Amida and its cultural embedding allows us to contextualize and interpret the significance of dog-like behaviour for the people of the sixth century AD.

This paper builds on recent scholarship exploring museum exhibitions and the heritage of mental health care. Using the development of the Stanley Royd Museum in the mid-1970s as a case study, the paper will examine the rationale for the opening of the museum and its link to changing perceptions of mental hospitals in both historical study and what was then ‘current’ practice. It will then provide an overview of the proposed audience for the new museum and briefly analyse its success in communicating its history to its visitors. Ultimately, it will question how successful mental health professionals were in presenting the progressive nature of institutional care at a time when the system was being radically overhauled and reoriented.

New issue – History of Psychiatry

A new issue of History of Psychiatry is now available online. The articles in this issue deal with a French psychiatrist’s view on psychoanalysis during the 1930s; photography and radical psychiatry in 1960s Italy; the relationship between madness and the legal system; shell-shock in post-WWI Dublin; GPI in a late nineteenth-century New Zealand Mental Hospital; the history of leucotomies in Greece; medical responses to psychological symptoms in nineteenth-century India; and the extermination of Jewish psychiatric patients during the Polish occupation.

Full titles and abstracts are below:

Felicia Gordon

In 1935 Constance Pascal (1877–1937), France’s first woman psychiatrist, publishedChagrins d’amour et psychoses (The Sorrows of Love and Psychosis). My analysis of her monograph will consider: her major article leading up to Chagrins; Pascal’s debts to her predecessors, particularly Morel and Kretschmer; her relationship to the French psychoanalytic movement; her co-option of psychoanalysis as a tool in her own therapeutic work with patients in the state psychiatric system; and her social/cultural interpretations of her woman patients. The literary and philosophic aspects of her work are emphasized as well as her contribution to French psychiatry.

John Foot

In the 1960s Franco Basaglia, the Director of a Psychiatric Hospital in a small city on the edge of Italy (Gorizia), began to transform that institution from the inside. He introduced patient meetings and set up a kind of Therapeutic Community. In 1968 he asked two photographers – Carla Cerati and Gianni Berengo Gardin – to take photos inside Gorizia and other asylums. These images were then used in a photobook called Morire di Classe (To Die Because of your Class) (1969). This article re-examines in detail the content of this celebrated book and its history, and its impact on the struggle to reform and abolish large-scale psychiatric institutions. It also places the book in its social and political context and as a key text of the anti-psychiatry movement of the 1960s.

Benjamin Lévy

The second part of this paper examines the history of querulous paranoia and vexatious litigation in the English-speaking countries from the nineteenth century to today. This study suggests that the lack of thorough research on querulous paranoia in these countries is due to a broad cultural, legal and medical context which has caused unreasonable complainants to be considered a purely legal, rather than a medical issue. To support this hypothesis, I analyse how legal steps have been taken throughout the English-speaking world since 1896 to keep the unreasonable complainants at bay, and I present reasons why medical measures have scarcely been adopted. However, I also submit evidence that this division of responsibilities between the judges and the psychiatrists has taken a new turn since the dawn of the twenty-first century.

Brendan D Kelly

The history of mental disorders occasioned by World War I is a complex and important history, indelibly linked with social, political and cultural circumstances, and the history of the war itself. The Richmond War Hospital was a 32-bed establishment on the grounds of the large Richmond District Asylum in Dublin which, from 16 June 1916 until 23 December 1919, treated 362 soldiers with shell shock and other mental disorders, of whom more than half were considered to have recovered. Despite the limitations of the Richmond War Hospital, it was a generally forward-looking institution that pointed the way for future reform of Ireland’s asylum system and, along with the other war hospitals, brought significant changes to the practice of psychiatry.

Maree O’Connor

This article examines the diagnosis of general paralysis of the insane (GPI) at the Auckland Mental Hospital, New Zealand, between 1868 and 1899, and changes in the identified causes of this condition. It argues that despite long-standing evidence citing the role of syphilis, asylum doctors working in New Zealand were as reluctant as their English and Scottish colleagues to blame syphilis alone for GPI. It also argues that although syphilis became a more popular cause in the aetiology of GPI by the end of the nineteenth century, medical and non-medical sources continued to cite other causes for GPI.

D Ploumpidis, C Tsiamis, and E Poulakou-Rebelakou

In order to present the social, scientific and institutional context which permitted the use of leucotomies in Greece, we have reviewed the Archives of the Medical Associations, the medical literature of the years 1946–56, a reader’s dissertation and the memoirs of two psychiatrists. More than 250 leucotomies were done in the two public psychiatric hospitals in Athens from 1947 to 1954, as well as 40 leucotomies in the public psychiatric hospital in Thessaloniki. Although aware of the side effects, psychiatrists justified the use of the procedure. The performance of leucotomies in Greece declined because of reports of the dangers of the operation and its unpredictable outcome for the patients, but mainly because of the encouraging results with psychotropic drugs in the early 1950s.

P Radhika, Pratima Murthy, Alok Sarin, and Sanjeev Jain

The article documents medical approaches to mental illness in mid- to late-nineteenth-century India through examining the Indian Medical Gazette and other medical accounts. By the late nineteenth century, psychiatry in Europe moved from discussions around asylum-based care to a nuanced and informed debate about the nature of mental symptoms. This included ideas on phrenology and craniometry, biological and psycho-social causes, physical and drug treatments, many of which travelled to India. Simultaneously, indigenous socio-medical ideas were being debated. From the early to the mid-nineteenth century, not much distinction was made between the Western and the native ‘mind’, and consequently the diagnosis and investigation of mental symptoms did not differ. However, by the late nineteenth century Western medicine considered the ‘Western mind’ as more civilized and sophisticated than the ‘native mind.

Mary V Seeman

The T4 euthanasia programme within Nazi Germany has been well researched, but much less is known about the extermination of psychiatric patients in Nazi-occupied territories during the same period. In Poland 20,000 mentally ill patients were deliberately killed during the German occupation. This paper traces the history of one psychiatric hospital, Zofiówka, in Otwock, south-east of Warsaw. The hospital once served the Jewish population of Poland and was the largest, most prestigious neuropsychiatric centre in the country. It is now in ruins and said to be haunted by ghosts.

Classic Text No. 101
GE Berrios
Book Reviews
Claire Trenery
Leigh Wetherall-Dickson
Elena Trivelli
Alysa Levene
Vicky Long
Anna Greenwood
Ian Dowbiggin

To access the issue, click here.

Dissertations – The Ottoman State and the insane, 1856–1908

Mental Patients inside Toptaşı Mental Asylum. (From the private collection of Cengiz Kahraman)

Mental Patients inside Toptaşı Mental Asylum. (From the private collection of Cengiz Kahraman)

Cihangir Gündoğdu: “Are there no asylums?”
 : the Ottoman State and the insane, 1856–1908

The present study seeks to contribute to and expand our knowledge concerning the nature and scope of the Tanzimat reforms by bringing to our scholarly attention a relatively understudied matter, the mental asylum reform that took place between 1856 and 1908. This study begins with Luigi Mongeri’s appointment to the Süleymaniye Mental Asylum in 1856 and ends with the 1908 revolution, which inaugurated a period when the mental asylum would undergo a new reformist trend at the hands of Unionist elite. Although the objects of asylum reform were, obviously, the “insane”, this work does not primarily focus on their stories. It rather explores the professional, legal, political, and economic processes that accompanied the mental asylum reform in the second half of the nineteenth century in the Ottoman Empire. It is accordingly organized around certain themes and problematics, such as the definition and quantification of madness, its regulation, the proposals and initiatives to institutionalize the treatment of the insane, and the financing of such initiatives.

Cihangir Gündoğdu did his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago’s Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Department. He defended his dissertation on 4 September 2014 and currently teaches history classes at the Istanbul Bilgi University in Turkey.

Dissertations – Surviving Success, Reconciling Resilience

Demolition of King’s College Residence, 1886. This figure illustrates the ‘original’ building of what is now referred to as the University Toronto. The building was completed in 1845 and demolished in 1886 following a period as an asylum. (University of Toronto Archives 2001-77-11MS)

Demolition of King’s College Residence, 1886. (University of Toronto Archives 2001-77-11MS) This figure illustrates the ‘original’ building of what is now referred to as the University Toronto. The building was completed in 1845 and demolished in 1886 following a period as an asylum.

Katie Aubrecht: Surviving Success, Reconciling Resilience: A Critical Analysis of the Appearance of Student ‘Mental Life’ at one Canadian University

This dissertation addresses the university student as a figure of mental health and illness. Drawing on the methods and theories of disability studies, interpretive sociology, critical, feminist and queer theory, as well as hermeneutically oriented phenomenology, my work explores the social production of this student figure or type – variously depicted as ‘ invisible’, ‘maladjusted’, ‘stressed’, ‘difficult’, sensitive’, ‘resilient’, ‘narcissistic’, and extraordinarily ‘ordinary’. This figure is addressed as a means of revealing contradictory understandings of the relationship between success and survival, as this relationship appears in the ordinary daily life of the University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The social and historical significance of the contemporary University’s Student Life Programs and Services is analyzed with a view to reveal the Western cultural values and practices which organize consciousness of success as a necessary condition of contemporary existence. Special attention is paid to the cultural production of knowledge concerning university student ‘mental life’, the appearance of which is located at the interstices of colonialism, global health policy, institutional ‘best practices’, cultural mores and folkways, and embodied experiences. I dwell with this appearance as an occasion to engage the materiality of Western mythologies of resilience, and with them the meaning of human agency under neoliberal governance. This engagement examines the productive power of the disciplinary and institutionalized ‘language of mental illness’ through a genealogy of the University of Toronto, a textual analyses of the University’s Student Life Programs and Services literature, and a discursive analysis of open-ended interviews with student services representatives which seeks both to understand and transgress conventional interpretations of the structure of Student Life. I demonstrate how University presentations of student bodies, minds and senses perceived to be lacking in ‘ordinary order’, can be reconceived as sites to reflect on the paramount presence of psychiatric knowledge in interpretations and responses to embodied difference within the university setting. Overall, this dissertation seeks to disrupt unexamined relations to the meaning of student types; and in the process, display how normative relations to the student as a figure of mental health and illness needs is currently and historically organized and socially achieved.

Dr. Katie Aubrecht graduated in November 2012 and is the current President of the Canadian Disability Studies Association, Associate Editor (Forums) of Review of Disability Studies: An International Journal, Canadian Institutes of Health Research Postdoctoral Fellow and Assistant Professor with the Department of Sociology at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia. Her current research examines the discursive construction of dementia and the politics of person-centred residential dementia care.

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