Since the late Stone Age, approximately 10 percent of humans have been left-handed, yet for most of human history left-handedness has been stigmatized. In On the Other Hand, Howard I. Kushner traces the impact of left-handedness on human cognition, behavior, culture, and health.
A left-hander himself, Kushner has long been interested in the meanings associated with left-handedness, and ultimately with whether hand preference can even be defined in a significant way. As he explores the medical and cultural history of left-handedness, Kushner describes the associated taboos, rituals, and stigma from around the globe. The words “left” and “left hand” have negative connotations in all languages, and left-handers have even historically been viewed as disabled.
In this comprehensive history of left-handedness, Kushner asks why left-handedness exists. He examines the relationship—if any—between handedness, linguistics, and learning disabilities, reveals how toleration of left-handedness serves as a barometer of wider cultural toleration and permissiveness, and wonders why the reported number of left-handers is significantly lower in Asia and Africa than in the West. Written in a lively style that mixes personal biography with scholarly research, On the Other Hand tells a comprehensive story about the science, traditions, and prejudices surrounding left-handedness.
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.
The June 2016 issue of History of Psychiatry is now online. Articles in this issue explore psychiatric semiology, the German Research Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, madness in novelist Muriel Spark’s work, LSD as treatment in Denmark, the DSM and learning disabilities, Joseph Mason’s madhouse, and the work of Max Scheler. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“The emergence of psychiatric semiology during the Age of Revolution: evolving concepts of ‘normal’ and ‘pathological’,” by Diego Enrique Londoño and Professor Tom Dening. The abstract reads,
This article addresses some important questions in psychiatric semiology. The concept of a sign is crucial in psychiatry. How do signs emerge, and what gives them validity and legitimacy? What are the boundaries of ‘normal’ and ‘pathological’ behaviour and mental experiences? To address these issues, we analyse the characteristics and rules that govern semiological signs and clinical elements. We examine ‘normality’ from the perspective of Georges Canguilehm and compare the differences of ‘normal’ in physiology and psychiatry. We then examine the history and the philosophical, linguistic and medical-psychiatric origins of semiology during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (the Age of Revolution). The field of rhetoric and oratory has emphasized the importance of passions, emotions and language as applied to signs of madness. Another perspective on semiology, provided by Michel Foucault, lays stress on the concept of ‘instinct’ and the axis of voluntary-involuntary behaviour. Finally, we analyse how statistics and eugenics have played an important role in our current conceptualization of the norm and therefore the scientific discourse behind the established clinical signs.