Work and the Irish District Asylums during the late nineteenth century
in Work, psychiatry and society, c. 1750–2015
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This chapter examines work and its uses – therapeutic, punitive and productive - in the Irish District Asylum system in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Through a number of case studies, the chapter discusses the utilisation of work in a number of asylum settings, and evaluates its usage for specific patient cohorts. Labour, paid or unpaid, served several purposes within Irish institutions, and its status as well as the manner in which it was assigned changed, depending upon the individual patient. Indoor work was prized over outdoor agricultural labour, and an informal hierarchy of roles developed within the asylum, with often intense competition for especially valued occupations such as support for asylum staff. While the asylum physician frequently used a willingness to work as a test of sanity, it was also often embraced by patients themselves as a means of re-establishing a connection to their former life in the outside world, affirming their identity as a coherent, productive individual. The chapter also examines those who did not, or could not, work, and assesses the criteria applied by medical and nursing staff to determine whether any patient should be compelled to labour for their keep.

Editor: Waltraud Ernst

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