History of the Human Sciences 14 (2):19-38 (2001)

Is mental illness an object of knowledge? The history of psychiatry teaches us to doubt it, by emphasizing the infinitely variable and fluctuating character of psychiatric entities. Mental illness is not simply ‘out there’, waiting to be described and theorized by psychiatrists; it interacts with psychiatric theories, clinical entities waxing and waning in accordance with diagnostic fashions, institutional practices and methods of treatment. This should be a warning to psychiatrists and therapists: their intervention is part of the ‘etiological equation’ of the syndromes that they claim to observe from the outside. But this should also be a warning to historians of psychiatry, who can no longer be content with writing the history of ready-made syndromes and psychiatric theories. They must, if they want to remain faithful to their improbable ‘object’, study the complex interactions from which those syndromes and those theories emerge, somewhere between the doctors, the patients and the society that surrounds them. In short, they must study the making of psychiatric history, and understand that they participate in it
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DOI 10.1177/09526950122120943
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The Social Construction of What?Ian Hacking - 1999 - Harvard University Press.

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