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Madness and its Meanings


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 7
  • ConvenorLouise Hide
  • Assessment: one essay of 5000-5500 words (100%)

Module description

How we give meaning to the world and experience different mental conditions is part of what it means to be human. Historically, the concept of 'madness' has shaped ideas around 'otherness' and 'deviancy' - the delinquent teenager, the homosexual, the criminal psychopath, the anxious housewife, the violent schizophrenic. In this module, we ask how certain mental states and human behaviours have been pathologised and treated from the late nineteenth century to the present day. Guest speakers will introduce key concepts and, drawing on a range of primary sources from case notes to newspaper reports and film, we will explore ways of finding the ‘patient voice’ and examine the myriad intersections between diagnostic categories and social identities. This will enable us to comprehend how they have served the interests of medicine and the 'psy' disciplines, the state, 'big pharma', the media and society at large. By understanding how knowledge and identities have been created in the past, ‘Madness and its Meanings’ will help you to engage more critically with the mental health issues of today.

Indicative module syllabus

  • Introduction to madness and its meanings in the twentieth century
  • Working with primary sources - visit to the Wellcome Library
  • Madness in the body - moral panic and the segregation of the 'unfit'
  • Madness in the mind - Freud and the neuroses
  • So, what is schizophrenia? Race and the politicisation of psychiatric diagnoses
  • Anti-psychiatry and the pathogenic family
  • Mad or bad? The psychopath as social danger; the homosexual as moral menace
  • 'Mother's little helpers' - anxiety, depression and big pharma
  • Institutions of 'care' - closing the asylums
  • Round-up and essay presentations