Tomke Hinrichs


One subject as an object of psychiatry? – (Re-)Subjectification in psychiatric space based on „psychiatrilized“ writers of pamphlets („Irrenbroschüren“) around 1900


This draft broaches the situation of psychiatry and the handling of people, who became „psychiatrilized“ – meaning people, who unwillingly became a subject of psychiatric treatment around 1900. The focus lies on cases relevant in the context of the lunatic rights movement from the 1890s onwards, where the affected persons were trying to get their rights and citizenship back, because while in treatment, they did not only lose certain civil rights, but where mostly processed as objects. The project discusses the starting points for an analysis and implementation of the theory aforementioned for the post-graduate programme “Self-Making: Practices of Subjectivation in Historical and Interdisciplinary Perspective” at the University of Oldenburg. It will include historical aspects and viewpoints from different disciplinary fields, such as medicinal and juridical.How does a „citizen“ turn into a „lunatic“? Which mechanisms are disguised behind the acription of „lunatic“ or the formation of „selfhood“ in their social environment, in which the subjects are situated and merge into what they are? When and how is the subject changing within and throughout the field? The topic of doctor-patient-relationships in the newly developing psychiatric discipline with its entanglements in other areas around 1900 gives the possibility to answer those and further questions. This area of investigation provides the opportunity to reveal and analyze these interdependencies and mechanisms.Dealing with institutionalized people has changed within the last two centuries. Afflicted people are less rigorously stigmatized by society as in earlier times. The individual and his environment determine, influence – change – each other, this is shown in many contexts. But can somebody be labeled as „lunatic“, if one is standing up for freedom rights? From which moment onwards will one`s behaviour be labeled as „lunatic“? – when a person is getting inconvenient for society? The human being as an acting subject and an object of sciences – this is only one possibly perspective when looking at the changes of psychiatry during the 19th century. The changing of psychiatry as a medical discipline was partly caused by turning away from a natural philosophy approach towards a new orientation based on scientific-empirical methods. Consequently this required the development of a nosology, which transformed the patient from a subject into an object on the sickbed. Uniformed clinical pictures inside psychiatry should not only establish acceptance within society, but also foster the scientification and professionalisation of the discipline itself. One field of investigation for the theoretical concept of „self-making“ could be found in the „lunatics rights movement“, which offers an interesting point of view with its actors and participants and different aspects from various disciplines. Around 1900, while the situation of psychiatry as a discipline changed, the „lunatics rights movement“ was formed. Ann Goldberg describes writers of pamphlets as the main girders of this movement. These writers were of the opinion that their admission to an asylum was unwarranted and in this way stigmatized by society. Those Pamphlets with their personal stories, which differed in extend reaching from 60 to 300 pages, were meant to aid them to disclose their felt injustice to the public, which was supposed to act as a judge, and to compensate for that perceived injustice. The pamphlets describe the conditions and grievances in asylums and include all kinds of documents which shall contribute to the rehabilitation of „psychiatrilized“ people. The publisher often weights in, in a short manner in preface and epilogue, to stand up for the writer and his rights. Among my already investigated cases were mostly male authors, who got diagnosed to have a mental illness, frequently after a dispute concerning inheritance matters. One exception was a noblewoman who did not doubt to be unjustifiably in an asylum herself. She though submitted reform proposals to minimize grievances she experienced in four saxonian asylums. The affected persons were, according to Dirk Blasius, either perceived as a disturbance by their relatives and therefore got institutionalized or they were simply rated as a danger to the public. That the authors of these pamphlets were mostly men was shown in Cornelia Brink’s studies. In 2002 she estimated the amount of booklets was around 200; this amount might meanwhile be larger due to intensive research and rediscovered pamphlets within the investigation at hand. Other contents of these „Irrenbroschüren“ were the confrontation of criticism concerning the psychiatric field, which were also heavily discussed within the discipline itself. Those were for example: the special training to be a certified psychiatrist (Facharztausbildung) or the already mentioned missing nosology, which led to a certain arbitrariness in diagnostics. This last point had a significant impact on the lacking acceptance of psychiatry in society. Through the practice of publishing a pamphlet – the attempt to recover one`s own selfhood by publication – a strengthened subject has its say and weighs in for its rights. Thereby patients tried to break through the rating of being seen as a medical object and get back to being recognized solely as subject. If society’s interest was guided to any pamphlet by accelerated press reports and provoked an outraged reaction, those occurrences can be connected to the practice of scandalisation.The theory of scandalisation offers an extra insight in public subjectivation and also society’s systematics. The subject changes itself by publishing its experiences – whether society takes notice or not. Other people, who had similar experiences, were supposed to be encouraged to publish their story as well, to finally achieve a reorientation of the discipline. The writers want to act as role models. The success of a pamphlet depends partly on the decision and information of the press about the publishing of it. The information given by the press helps in reaching a broader audience. The pamphlets and the reaction of the press make it possible to get a bigger, broader and more detailed insight into the process of subjectivation on different levels by adding the dimension of space – the public space of readership. The „Irrenbroschüren“ and the press reports additionally show special characteristics with regard to the use of language und vocabulary, which resembles and shows parallels to the vocabulary of newspaper articles about the current case of Gustl Mollath in bavaria. At this point some questions arise, whether the publication modifies or reinterprets the subjectform of „the lunatic“ – in particular: Can „the lunatic“ or „the sick“ not handle their environment or is the environment not able to handle them? Which would implicate a „transfer“ into the isolated space of an asylum. Or is it even „the citizen“ who doesn’t behave according to social standards demanded of a citizen and by this reasoning has to change his space or be excluded from it to learn normed behaviour anew? The „psychiatrilized“ human in an asylum is by hospitalization located in a tranformation space of psychiatry. Within the asylum the ascription of the subject as „lunatic“ stands in relation to the position of the subject as an „ill person“, which is perceived as wrong classification by the patients, hence they strongly deny being sick. Within both subjectforms resonates a negative connotation.The subjectform of „the lunatic“ changes before and after the movement by modification of its area/space of activity. The construction of illness in a society has a decisive position here. Is „the sick“ taking part in the social role play or are they excluded, moved into the isolated social action of the asylum? What does the asylum do to them? Is „the lunatic“ reeducated, disciplined to return to society? To what extent are the processes of subjectivation connected to social disciplining as Martin Dinges has described? – With these questions the activities of the individuals and their perspectives are focused and put in the context of the perception of other actors.The “ego documents” of the pamphlets enable an insight in other historic-cultural-typifications, for example „the craftsmen“, „the noblewoman“ or „the citizen“. The social practice of writing a pamphlet was often exercised by bourgeois males, which is why it is necessary to take note of the relevance of the authors trying to secure their social status within my research. By writing and publishing the afflicted persons tried to stem the hospitalization in an asylum for the future, to overcome the stigma and transform the system’s uncertainty into reliable certainty. For those actors, who are the focal point of this doctoral project, new courses of actions are established. Displayed through approaching the public by publishing pamphlets to explore new possibilities and erase the stigma of psychiatry and hence the suffered social death sentence. They form their „self“ anew. The already given possibilities in the reproduction of practices, to certify or prove these anew and to change something with these actions, the writers try to make it usable for themselves, to get a scope for action, expand it and try to positively shape the consequences for their future. In this point their own contribution is explicit. By processing this topic the scope for action, which is a result of the interventions of the afflicted persons and associates to a movement, shall be outlined. Due to the proclaimed aim of publishing the pamphlets the actors want to open themselves to the scope of actions, which were taken from them by society. They lack acceptance as a „citizen“ from society, to continue acting in their social field. A factor in this interaction is the arbitrariness of police, justice and psychiatry, which influences the afflicted persons wish to escape, to protect their individual existence. Taking a closer look at those different factors in social life, it might give a clearer view of existing transformative dynamics. Another issue is this: because the public should be functioning as a judge, to know that the imposed stigma by society and the limitation of their rights is cancelled, to be a worthy member of society again. At this point the question is which role has the public in the process of subjectivation of the individual. By this intervention, the publishing of such an „Irrenbroschüre“, the action of the individual can be determined. All these facts happened in front of basal processes of modernization, in which the freedom rights and the fundamental rights play a big role as well. Basically the question is: what is the relationship between the freedom rights and the protection of society against the background of the institutionalization of public welfare. Different sources, like patient records, press reports, parliamental proceedings and legislative texts, already aim at the interdisciplinary orientation of this topic.Summarizing we could name the following points of investigation: Firstly the pamphlets „Irrenbroschüren“ are the source all is based on, based on those more sources can be found – press reports, medical reports, juridical statements, parliamentary proceedings and so on. With a micro historical sight on these „cases“, different perspectives of actors involved in this investigation will be shown. This means, that pamphlets without recognizable resonance in the public or the professional public are not included in this investigation. Secondly: the perspectives of the actors and actor groups, who are grouped around the artifact of the pamphlet – this means the writer, the publisher, the doctors, the justice, the relatives, the press and the staging „public“ as well as politics – will be analyzed with regard to the processes of subjectivation of the „psychiatrilized“ individual. Which knowledge, logics and legitimating patterns are used by the actors to give reasons that their interpretation from their point of view is decisive in this discourse about the civil subject? An important view here is the medical-psychiatric perspective, which, with reference to alleged established scientific knowledge, defines a corridor of „normal“ behaviour, which identifies their „psychic health“ – behavioural patterns, which range outside of these expectations of normality, are interpreted as an expression of a „mental disorder“ or „illness“ and therefore made subject to immediate treatment. Distinguished from this perspective is the juridical perspective, which has specific rational behaviour as a basis of „legal capacity“ and therefore defines the precondition of acceptance as „legal subject“; the perspective of the police on persons being alleged as a „danger to the public“. The writers of the pamphlets „quality as a subject“ is attacked by psychiatry, justice and police – they argue against these attacks with the „reason“ of civil society. Already the act of writing the pamphlet – the rational argumentation against the psychiatric, justice, police perspective – is their permit for their „mental health“. For this, they are looking for support of the civil public. The processes, which are initiated by this, could be interpreted – with recourse to the theory of the social field of Pierre Bourdieu – as a „play“ of different actors and actor groups in a social field, always aiming at the improvement of their own position in this field or enforcing their own „rules of the game“ as the obligatory rules. Thirdly: this dimension makes it necessary that within the analysis historical, sociological and medical methods should be combined. Aim of this investigation is to strive for an overall picture, to reconstruct the practices of the actors. Formulated as a key thesis:„Authors of so called „Irrenbroschüren“ with the help of publishing their pamphlets create a new and changed self-image, advertise for the acceptance of said image in public und hereby try to revoke the earlier demotion to an object in psychiatric treatment and become a whole subject again.“



(Changed: 2021-04-30)