An intermittently Liberal anthology compiled by Jonathan Calder

Wednesday, September 29, 2004  

How the history of psychiatry was written in America
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)

posted by Jonathan Calder | 7:56 pm

Friday, September 17, 2004  

Adults in the television age
The modern idea of adulthood is largely a product of the printing press. Almost all of the characteristics we associate with adulthood are those that are (and were) either generated or amplified by the requirements of a fully literate culture: the capacity for self-restraint, a tolerance for delayed gratification, a sophisticated ability to think conceptually and sequentially, a preoccupation with both historical continuity and the future, a high valuation of reason and hierarchical order.

As electric media move literacy to the periphery of culture and take its place at the centre, different attitudes and character traits come to be valued and a new diminished definition of adulthood begins to emerge. It is a definition that does not exclude children, and therefore what results is a new configuration of the stages of life. In the television age there are three. At one end, infancy; at the other, senility. In between there is what we might call the adult-child.

The adult-child may be defined as a grown-up whose intellectual and emotional capacities are unrealised and, in particular, not significantly different from those associated with children.

Neil Postman The Disappearance of Childhood: How TV is changing children's lives (1985)

posted by Jonathan Calder | 4:10 pm