New Social History of Medicine: Historicizing Hacking’s Concepts, Psychopathy, & More

The most recent issue of Social History of Medicine includes several articles of interest to AHP readers. Articles in this issue historicize Ian Hacking’s concepts via the example of Munchausen syndrome, describe the development of public health alcohol education in Britain, and explore psychopathy as social engineering in Finland. Full details below.

“Concepts, Diagnosis and the History of Medicine: Historicising Ian Hacking and Munchausen Syndrome,” by Chris Millard. Open Access. Abstract:

Concepts used by historians are as historical as the diagnoses or categories that are studied. The example of Munchausen syndrome (deceptive presentation of illness in order to adopt the ‘sick role’) is used to explore this. Like most psychiatric diagnoses, Munchausen syndrome is not thought applicable across time by social historians of medicine. It is historically specific, drawing upon twentieth-century anthropology and sociology to explain motivation through desire for the ‘sick role’. Ian Hacking’s concepts of ‘making up people’ and ‘looping effects’ are regularly utilised outside of the context in which they are formed. However, this context is precisely the same anthropological and sociological insight used to explain Munchausen syndrome. It remains correct to resist the projection of Munchausen syndrome into the past. However, it seems inconsistent to use Hacking’s concepts to describe identity formation before the twentieth century as they are given meaning by an identical context.

“‘Everybody Likes a Drink. Nobody Likes a Drunk’. Alcohol, Health Education and the Public in 1970s Britain,” by Alex Mold. Open Access. Abstract:

This article examines the development of alcohol health education in Britain during the 1970s, using this as a way to explore the nature of public health and the place of the public within it. Focusing on a set of local health education campaigns, an expert committee report on alcohol prevention and a public consultation exercise on alcohol, the article highlights the presence of three different ‘publics’. Health education campaigns tended to focus on the individual drinker, but the drinking habits of the whole population were also of concern. So too were the rights and responsibilities of citizen-consumers. These three publics—drinkers, the population and citizen-consumers—were often in conflict with one another, and though it was drinkers that became the object of alcohol policy, the needs of the population, and of citizen-consumers, could not be ignored.

“Socialising the Anti-Social: Psychopathy, Psychiatry and Social Engineering in Finland, 1945–1968,” by Katariina Parhi and Petteri Pietikainen.

This article argues that in Finland during the two decades after the Second World War, the diagnosis of psychopathy represented a failed attempt to adjust ‘difficult’ individuals to the social order. Discussing the social and medical character of the diagnosis, we examine psychopathy using the analytic and historical framework of social engineering in post-war Finland. We utilise patient records, official documents and psychiatric publications and analyse the diagnostic uses of psychopathy and its associations with social maladjustment. We also address the question of how mental health care in the less-developed northern part of Finland grappled with behavioural deviance, and especially with behaviour deemed ‘anti-social’. Contextualising psychopathy as a marker of individual disorganisation within the development of social organisation, this article contributes to historical scholarship that maps mental disorders onto the historical development of the nation.

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About Jacy Young

Jacy Young recently completed a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Surrey in the UK. She earned her doctorate in the History and Theory of Psychology at York University in 2014.

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