May 2020 Social History of Medicine: Women who kill, addiction treatment, and anti-psychiatry discourse

Several pieces in the May 2020 issue of Social History of Medicine may be of interest to AHP readers. Details below.

The Pathologisation of Women Who Kill: Three Cases from Ireland,” by Lynsey Black. Abstract:

Women who kill are frequently subject to discourses of pathology. This article examines the cases of three women convicted of murder in Ireland following Independence in 1922 and explores how each woman was constructed as pathologised. Using archival materials, the article demonstrates that diagnoses were contingent and imbricated with notions of gender, morality, dangerousness, and class. For two of the women, their pathologisation led to them being certified as insane and admitted to the Central Criminal Lunatic Asylum. However, pathologisation could be mediated by respectable femininity. The article also explores the pathways which facilitated judgements of pathology, including the acceptance of a framework of degeneracy, or hereditary insanity, and examines how women could be redeemed from the diagnoses of ‘insanity’.

‘The Only Trouble is the Dam’ Heroin’: Addiction, Treatment and Punishment at the Fort Worth Narcotic Farm,” by Holly M Karibo. Abstract:

In 1929, the U.S. federal government approved two ground-breaking programs designed to treat drug addiction. Emerging at a time when many began to worry about a supposed rising tide of drug use across the country, the establishment of narcotic hospitals at Lexington, Kentucky and Fort Worth, Texas marked a watershed moment in the treatment of addiction. This article traces the institutional history of one of those facilities, the Fort Worth Narcotic Farm, and the experiences of the men who found themselves under its care. It argues that, on the surface, the creation of the farm model seemed like a hopeful alternative to strict incarceration models. Its creation reflected shifting notions of addiction: namely, that addiction is not simply a crime, but it is also a disease with serious public health implications. Yet, the establishment of the hospital as places to both treat and punish addicts was their inherent and fundamental flaw. Central to this was the concept of the “prisoner-patient,” a person forced to undergo treatment as a result of criminal charges. Not only did patients express their frustration with the prison-like setting at Fort Worth, but recidivism rates remained high throughout the facility’s operation. Ultimately, lawmakers and politicians would use these recidivism rates as part of a broader push for more punitive drug legislation in the post-World War II period. By placing the history of addiction into conversation with mass incarceration studies, this article shows that the roots of the punishment model employed in the last quarter of the twentieth century were interwoven into seemingly “progressive” treatment models dating back to at least the 1930s. Indeed, the very failures of early addiction treatment models that arose by mid-century helped to justify an expanding criminal justice model in the post-1960s era.

MIND, Anti-Psychiatry, and the Case of the Mental Hygiene Movement’s ‘Discursive Transformation’,” by Jonathan Toms. Abstract:

During the 1970s the National Association for Mental Health (NAMH) re-labelled itself MIND, becoming a rights-based organisation, critiquing psychiatry and emphasising patients’ citizenship. Its transformation has been coloured by attributions of the influence of anti-psychiatry. This article argues that the relevance of anti-psychiatry has been over-simplified. It examines MIND’s history as part of the psychiatric strategy known as mental hygiene. This movement’s agenda can be understood as paradigmatic of much that anti-psychiatry renounced. However, building on the sociologist Nick Crossley’s description of the interactional nature of Social Movement Organisations in the psychiatric field, this article shows that a ‘discursive transformation’ can be deduced in core elements of mental hygienist thinking. This transformation of discourse clearly prefigured important elements of anti-psychiatry, and also fed into MIND’s rights approach. But it must be appreciated on its own terms. Its distinctiveness under MIND is shown in its application to people with learning disabilities.

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.