Method in His Madness: Enacting Male Normativity in Holloway Sanatorium for the Insane, 1880-1910
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“Method in His Madness” juxtaposes the publicly stated intentions of a Victorian registered hospital for the mentally ill middle-classes with the reality of the asylum’s idiosyncratic practices. The goal of this comparative is to describe one particular iteration of white, male, middle-class normativity—which echoes broader 19th-century trends—and reveal the ways in which normative codes influenced doctors and administrators as they enacted diagnosis, therapy, and recovery. I also use this comparative to highlight major tensions within the asylum, between medical practitioners, governmental decision-makers, and social arbiters, and also between prescriptive authority figures and resistant patients. In the end, my investigation of these tensions adds to the academic consensus that normativity itself is contingently made, and that medicalizing normativity when it stands on such shaky ground is harmful and exclusionary. But this historically embedded project also intervenes in specific contemporary concerns from within the medical humanities. I discuss throughout how the process of embedding precarious gender roles into “wellness” and “madness” has limited our understanding and acceptance of gender fluidity and flexible masculinities, as well as shaped the landscape of care-seeking among men who face the reality that “recovery” often means returning to the same systems and expectations that created us/them as ill in the first place—systems and expectations that tend to stigmatize care-seeking altogether, leading to toxicity and isolation.
Science and Technology Studies
Actor Network Theory