New in Medical History: Campaigning for Learning Disabled People’s Rights and Susan Isaacs’ Popularization of Psychoanalysis

Susan Isaacs

The October 2017 issue of Medical History includes two articles that may be of interest to AHP readers. These articles tackle campaigning for learning disabled people’s civil rights in the 1970s and Susan Isaacs‘ popularization of psychoanalytic concepts through her writing as Ursula Wise. Full details below.

“Select Citizenship and Learning Disabled People: The Mental Health Charity MIND’s 1970s Campaign in Historical Context,” Jonathan Toms. Abstract:

Current policy and practice directed towards people with learning disabilities originates in the deinstitutionalisation processes, civil rights concerns and integrationist philosophies of the 1970s and 1980s. However, historians know little about the specific contexts within which these were mobilised. Although it is rarely acknowledged in the secondary literature, MIND was prominent in campaigning for rights-based services for learning disabled people during this time. This article sets MIND’s campaign within the wider historical context of the organisation’s origins as a main institution of the inter-war mental hygiene movement. The article begins by outlining the mental hygiene movement’s original conceptualisation of ‘mental deficiency’ as the antithesis of the self-sustaining and responsible individuals that it considered the basis of citizenship and mental health. It then traces how this equation became unravelled, in part by the altered conditions under the post-war Welfare State, in part by the mental hygiene movement’s own theorising. The final section describes the reconceptualisation of citizenship that eventually emerged with the collapse of the mental hygiene movement and the emergence of MIND. It shows that representations of MIND’s rights-based campaigning (which have, in any case, focused on mental illness) as individualist, and fundamentally opposed to medicine and psychiatry, are inaccurate. In fact, MIND sought a comprehensive community-based service, integrated with the general health and welfare services and oriented around a reconstruction of learning disabled people’s citizenship rights.

“‘Speaking Kleinian’: Susan Isaacs as Ursula Wise and the Inter-War Popularisation of Psychoanalysis,” by Michal Shapira. Abstract:

How did the complex concepts of psychoanalysis become popular in early twentieth-century Britain? This article examines the contribution of educator and psychoanalyst Susan Isaacs (1885–1948) to this process, as well as her role as a female expert in the intellectual and medical history of this period. Isaacs was one of the most influential British psychologists of the inter-war era, yet historical research on her work is still limited. The article focuses on her writing as ‘Ursula Wise’, answering the questions of parents and nursery nurses in the popular journal Nursery World, from 1929 to 1936. Researched in depth for the first time, Isaacs’ important magazine columns reveal that her writing was instrumental in disseminating the work of psychoanalyst Melanie Klein in Britain. Moreover, Isaacs’ powerful rebuttals to behaviourist, disciplinarian parenting methods helped shift the focus of caregivers to the child’s perspective, encouraging them to acknowledge children as independent subjects and future democratic citizens. Like other early psychoanalysts, Isaacs was not an elitist; she was in fact committed to disseminating her ideas as broadly as possible. Isaacs taught British parents and child caregivers to ‘speak Kleinian’, translating Klein’s intellectual ideas into ordinary language and thus enabling their swift integration into popular discourse.

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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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