Posted on September 12, 2010 - by David
In her forthcoming book, Mind, Madness and Modernity: The Impact of Culture on Human Experience, Liah Greenfeld presents a new framework for understanding mental illness. Readers of this blog may be familiar with some of these ideas from earlier posts, but her position is so distinct from all other theoretical approaches to mental illness that the central claim should be clearly stated from the outset :
Schizophrenia and Manic-Depressive Illness are biologically real diseases caused by modern culture.
Until now, most of what has been written from a “social science” perspective has focused on attitudes toward mental illness or the history of the psychiatric establishment, rather than the phenomenon of mental illness itself. This is because the theoretical approach usually involves either…
- A tacit acceptance of the dominant model, which holds that mental diseases are caused biologically and therefore occur at equal rates across cultures and throughout history
- A denial of the biological reality of these illnesses, which comes with the view that mental illness is a social construction (derived from the likes of Michel Foucault and Thomas Szasz)
- Some in-between version of the first two, (e.g the recent work of Allan Horwitz), emphasizing the medicalization of some normal human conditions, while leaving severe psychosis in the realm of the universal/biological
In light of these views, Greenfeld’s hypothesis that culture, a symbolic (and therefore non-material) reality, is capable of disrupting the normal functioning of the brain, appears quite unique, possibly to the point of seeming outrageous.
Precisely because this idea must seem unbelievable to so many people, I am happy to announce that it will no longer go unsupported. Over the next two weeks, I will be doing an exposition of the new book through a series of posts, outlining the major elements of the argument, and summarizing logical, empirical, and historical evidence to support the claims.
To be clear, I am working directly from the unpublished text of the book. All the original ideas, and all interpretations and analysis of primary and secondary source materials used to support the ideas are attributable to Liah Greenfeld.
Here’s the schedule:
9/24 – Madness: A Modern Phenomenon
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