Assembling Adjustment: Parergasia, Paper Technologies, and the Revision of Recovery

A new piece in Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry may interest AHP readers: “Assembling Adjustment: Parergasia, Paper Technologies, and the Revision of Recovery,” by Michael N. Healey. Abstract:

Drawing from research on ‘paper technologies’ conducted by medical historians Volker Hess and Andrew Mendelsohn, among others, this article explores how Adolf Meyer (1866–1950) and his staff at the Phipps Psychiatric Clinic used customized punch cards to develop an alternative conceptualization of schizophrenia: ‘parergasia.’ It begins by examining ‘dementia praecox,’ the conceptual precursor to both schizophrenia and parergasia, to explain how earlier paper technologies used to track patients transferred to asylums generated prognostic assumptions that precluded deinstitutionalization and community-based care. It then describes how Meyer’s staff modified these technologies to define parergasia in opposition to dementia praecox and other diagnoses that resulted in prolonged hospitalization, primarily by conducting follow-up studies on discharged patients that correlated outcomes with various social factors. After demonstrating how the standardized forms used in these studies limited the possible metrics of recovery, it concludes by suggesting how Meyer’s research influenced leaders of the community mental health movement, and prefigured later trends in psychiatric services.

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.