Claire Deligny: “Alienation, emancipation and the lunatic asylum model in Britain, c. 1845-1914”

Claire Deligny (rattachée au LARCA/Université Paris Diderot) vient nous parler de l’élaboration et l’évolution du modèle asilaire victorien et édouardien. Le discutant était David Frank Allen (Université Rennes 2)


Based upon the analysis of three Lancashire asylums at Lancaster, Prestwich and Rainhill, this paper examines the evolution of the lunatic asylum model from 1845 to 1914. It first focuses on the linear narratives of asylum treatment in the mid-nineteenth century, hinged upon a teleological rationale equating confinement in asylums with the emancipation of the insane. It goes on to examine the elaboration of therapeutic landscapes across the three asylums, with the erection of the asylums at Rainhill and Prestwich, contrasting with the efforts produced at Lancaster to align with relatively new ideals of moral treatment and non-restraint. This allows to deconstruct the contemporary “rhetoric of emancipation”, in particular through illustrations of resistance, from the patients as well as the attendants. An analysis of the links between the asylum and the Poor Law authorities further point at competing rhetorics of alienation and emancipation characterizing asylum treatment. The last section of this paper focuses on the influence of theories of degeneration and eugenics in the shaping of an Edwardian lunatic asylum model. The latter is characterized by a move from an individual conception of emancipation -taken as liberation and de-alienation- to a collective one -the emancipation of the community- culminating with the 1913 legislation on mental deficiency. This paper helps put in perspective the alienation/emancipation rhetoric, still used nowadays to defend or condemn the consequences of the de-institutionalization movement and the subsequent rise of care in the community.

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