Madness and Community in the United States: Four Perspectives

AHA Session 241
Disability History Association 2
Sunday, January 8, 2012: 11:00 AM-1:00 PM
Mississippi Room (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Elizabeth Lunbeck, Vanderbilt University
Making Madness: Community Standards and the Determination of Non Compos Mentis
Kim E. Nielsen, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay
Manipulating Community: Borderline Personality Disorder and Communities of Suffering
Susan Cahn, University at Buffalo (State University of New York)
Disordered Delinquents: The Medicalization of Anti-social Behavior in the Late Twentieth-Century United States
Michael A. Rembis, University at Buffalo (State University of New York)
Elizabeth Lunbeck, Vanderbilt University

Session Abstract

Beginning in the 1960s, with the work of Thomas Szasz, Erving Goffman, and Michel Foucault scholars in a number of fields have increasingly challenged what might be called the medical model of madness; the idea that madness is something that is experienced individually and internally, and is fixed, natural, timeless, and neutral or value free.  The critique of the medical model has gained increased salience in recent decades with the rise of the disability rights and mad people’s movements.  The four papers in this panel engage with the critique of the medical model in new and important ways by employing insights from women’s and gender history, disability history, disability studies, and feminist theory to analyze the history of madness and the community in the United States. Nielson, Cahn, and Rembis use “non compos mentis,” “borderline personality disorder,” and the “disordered delinquent” respectively as case studies to explore the social, medical, and legal construction of categories of madness and their relationship to community standards, social norms, gender and generational roles, and familial relations.  Through her analysis of two Philadelphia institutions, Parsons traces the history of “de-institutionalization” and the transition to community care in the mid-twentieth century, which she argues hinged upon changing understandings of madness. Taken together, the papers in this panel reveal the rich social and cultural history of madness in the United States and its deep connections with the formation of larger social/power relations.

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