Negotiating insanity in the southeast of Ireland, 1820–1900

Catherine Cox
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Historians of asylums in India, South Africa and Australasia have stressed the importance of 'colonialism' as an analytic tool in the assessment of the activities of asylum officials and doctors. This book explores local medical, lay and legal negotiations with the asylum system in nineteenth-century Ireland. It deepens people's understanding of attitudes towards the mentally ill and institutional provision for the care and containment of people diagnosed as insane. The book expands the analytical focus beyond asylums incorporating the impact that the Irish poor law, petty session courts and medical dispensaries had on the provision of services. It builds on 'Mark Finnane's study of the origins and subsequent development of the asylum system. The national context to the introduction of asylum legislation is presented and the Carlow asylum district within the topography of institutional provision is situated. The focus is also on local actors in civil society - patients, families, poor law guardians, magistrates, police and doctors - and their interactions with asylums and with each other in responding to and managing the insane and insanity. Asylums and certification procedures and the lunacy inspectors' drive to publicly and practically place medical certification, and establish medical rather than legal actors as asylum gatekeepers is discussed. Irish families invoked certification to impose normative roles and to resolve conflict. The book emphasises the degree to which the asylum 'was a contested site, subject to continual negotiation amongst different parties'.

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‘Negotiating Insanity is an insightful analysis and deserves to be widely read, not alone by upcoming academics in the field of research on insanity, but also because it is an invaluable addition to the scholarship of social, medical, psychiatric and historical research in Ireland and Britain.'
Triona Waters, Mary Immaculate College
Irish Economic and Social History 44 (1)

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