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Smith, R. (1985). Mental Management: The Origins of Psychiatry?. Free Associations, 1C(2):123-127.

(1985). Free Associations, 1C(2):123-127

Mental Management: The Origins of Psychiatry?

Roger Smith

Managing the Mind: a Study of Medical Psychology in Early Nineteenth-Century Britain, by Michael Donnelly, London/New York, Tavistock Publications, 1983.

Periodically one recaptures astonishment at the extent to which we lock people up. The astonishment is the greater, since, at the very least, it is often in conflict with stated ends, as well as anti-libertarian. No wonder then that we look to history to supply the reasons which are absent from instrumental accounts of this phenomenon. Between 1750 and 1850, European and North American societies all adopted a constructional response to the management of social order: prisons, orphanages, hospitals, workhouses, and of course asylums. Governments or city authorities legislated on a wave of positive thinking that they could manage the recalcitrant or deviant individual moral mind if they could circumscribe tightly that mind's environment. To build was therefore literally to refurbish the mind. That it was also philanthropy was no contradiction: no one then or now doubts the reality of dehumanizing conditions in, say, the eighteenth-century prisons. But once the new buildings were up, with both professional careers and public belief invested in them, their very existence became a substitute rationale for their use. We should not be astonished.

A considerable amount of historical effort is now going towards understanding this social process. Legislation, centralized administration, professionalization of expert services — all the attributes of modern social management — became possible only with changing conceptions of the state's power over the individual.

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