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Wolfenstein, E.V. (1986). Psycho Politics: Laing, Foucault, Goffman, Szasz, and the Future of Mass Psychiatry: Peter Sedgwick. New York: Harper & Row, 1982, 292 pp., $15.95. Psychoanal. Psychol., 3(3):281-285.
(1986). Psychoanalytic Psychology, 3(3):281-285
Psycho Politics: Laing, Foucault, Goffman, Szasz, and the Future of Mass Psychiatry: Peter Sedgwick. New York: Harper & Row, 1982, 292 pp., $15.95
Review by: Eugene Victor Wolfenstein, Ph.D.
Psycho Politics is a critique of the theory and practice of the anti-psychiatry movement. It is a political critique, written from a radical perspective. This, as will emerge, is one point in its favor. But of equal importance is the author's unwillingness to accept merely ideological solutions to the problems posed by mental illness. Perhaps this fundamental seriousness of purpose is a reflection of the book's origins. Sedgwick writes that “a series of catastrophic events in my family home in which, finally, a close relative of mine was admitted, in a condition of extreme dementia, into the charge of a crowded and custodial local mental hospital …” (p. 3) precipitated his involvement with psychiatry and its countermovements. His inquiry seems to be grounded in the reality of that experience, and to be focused around the practical question: What can be done to help the victims of mental illness, both those who are ill and those who are bound, by family or other connection, to the mentally ill?
Sedgwick begins with the concept of illness—not just mental illness, but illness itself. A definition of illness is requied because the anti-psychiatry movement has “accomplished the feat of criticising the concept of mental illness without ever examining the (surely more inclusive and logically prior) concept of illness” (p. 27). The result has been the acceptance of a mind/body, society/biology dualism, in which positivist conceptions of the human organism reign supreme and unchallenged in the field of medicine, at the same time that all such conceptions are subjected to withering attack in the field of psychiatry. Not only does such a dualistic approach ignore the social definition of illness as such; it also deprives mental illness of any definite the-oretical or practical locus.
Concerning illness or disease Sedgwick argues, first, that “there are no illnesses or diseases in nature” (p.
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