Wednesday, September 29, 2004
How the history of psychiatry was written in America
posted by Jonathan Calder |
It was apparent and unmistakable that the reforms of one generation became the scandals of the next. Historians had explored their materials with a curious myopia. First they applauded the reformers who designed the system, then they applauded the reformers who exposed the system, and then they applauded the reformers who designed a new system – and the circle moved round on itself.
So the founders of the insane asylums in the 1830s were heroes; those who crusaded against easy containment laws in the 1880s were heroes; those who devised mental hygiene community programmes in the 1920s were heroes; and all those who exposed the horrors of the state hospitals were heroes.
And on and on, historians wrote with a bewildering lack of discrimination. The formula seemed ever so easy: anyone who proclaimed to be acting in the name of the underdog warranted applause, no matter what the substance or outcome of the programme. It was rhetoric that counted all the way.
David J. Rothman "Social control: The uses and abuses of the concept in the history of incarceration" In Stanley Cohen and Andrew Scull (eds) Social Control and the State: Historical and Comparative Essays (1983)