New Articles: ‘Tinkering’ with Therapeutic Tools in 1950s Paris, The Dialectic between Patients and Psychiatrists

Two articles in the May issue of Social History of Medicine may interest AHP readers.

“Behind Asylum Walls: Studying the Dialectic Between Psychiatrists and Patients at Montreal’s Saint-Jean-de-Dieu Hospital during the first half of the Twentieth Century,” by Isabelle Perreault; Marie-Claude Thifault. Abstract:

Hospital archives contain traces of psychiatric patients’ words—written and spoken accounts that could be construed as delusional, irrational and poetic. How are these singular historical narratives, transcripts and letters, which are often out of the ordinary, to be addressed? The historian is tempted to write these psychiatric cases off as nothing more than colourful examples. However, as per French historian Arlette Farge, ‘to take this discourse and work with it offers an answer to the desire to reintroduce lives and individualities into the historical narrative’. This paper questions the ways histories of madness are read and written, based on the rare words of patients found in psychiatric archives. How do we analyse these unique traces of intercourse between experts and marginalised individuals? What do they reveal about power relationships or resistance? Which standpoint should be taken, in order to write history from below, given the challenges posed by the narratives and social positions of the actors involved?

” A Chemical Revolution as Seen from below: The ‘Discovery’ of Neuroleptics in 1950s Paris,” by Benoît Majerus. Abstract:

The ‘success story’ of chlorpromazine on an international level has been told over and again. The prominence of Sainte Anne in Paris often features in these depictions. It played a critical role as a ‘laboratory’ between 1952 and 1954 in the narrative of the ‘invention’ of chlorpromazine as an antipsychotic. This paper intends to complete these global narratives by taking a closer look at the local therapy practice. The sources explored—from the systematic analysis of publications by Sainte-Anne psychiatrists and patient records—enable us to go beyond overused labels such as ‘discovery’, ‘revolution’ and ‘invention’ and glimpse inside the black boxes that these terms actually conceal. An analysis of the use of therapeutic tools reveals the level of ‘tinkering’ that occurred in medical practice. While the therapeutic arsenal was unquestionably diverse at the beginning of the 1950s, it was even more so by the end of the decade.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.