Medieval mysticism to schizoaffective disorder

The repositioning of subjectivity in the discourse of psychiatry

Authored by: Alison Torn

Routledge International Handbook of Critical Mental Health

Print publication date:  September  2017
Online publication date:  September  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138225473
eBook ISBN: 9781315399584
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9781315399584.ch14

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Abstract

In his works Discipline and Punish (1979), History of Madness (2006a) and Psychiatric Power (2006b), Michel Foucault presents three histories: a history of the division between madness and reason, a history of institutions and a history of power. For Foucault, these histories are not only interrelated but mutually dependent, with the division between reason and unreason marking both the silencing of madness and the development of psychiatry, thus making madness fundamentally a discourse of power. While focusing less on institutions and more on the specifics of language, the Russian critical literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin proposes a similar argument, suggesting that dominant groups such as psychiatry who emerged in response to sudden cultural changes, attempt to impose an authoritative discourse which, through the assertion of its power, marginalises other discourses (Bakhtin 1981). Bakhtin’s argument that authoritative discourse is a way of maintaining hierarchical relations within the dialogical relationship fits with Foucault’s descriptions of institutional discourses creating and maintaining relationships between power and knowledge. What Bakhtin adds to Foucault, however, is a focus on dialogue and the way it reaches both into the past and the future through the dialogical relationship. This chapter draws on both theorists to explore how pre-Enlightenment accounts of madness have been retrospectively positioned within the authoritative discourse of psychiatry as early examples of psychosis. As such, what were previously understood as religious experiences have been converged with psychotic experiences, making much of what happens in the spiritual domain a matter of madness – a practice that continues in the present day. The implications of this convergence are not only that alternative explanations of unusual experiences are marginalised, but, importantly, the voice of the individual is marginalised if not silenced by the authoritative and professionalised discourse of science, specifically psychiatry.

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