USciences Professor Co-Authors Book Examining Rhetoric of Mental Illness

By Jenna Pizzi

Published on June 20, 2019

Diagnosing Madness CoverExamining individual psychiatric case records from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a new book entitled Diagnosing Madness The Discursive Construction of the Psychiatric Patient, 1850-1920 studies the linguistic negotiations made to identify mental illness and diagnose patients. Cristina Hanganu-Bresch, PhD, assistant director of Writing Programs and professor of writing and rhetoric, co-authored the book with Carol Berkenkotter, a professor at University of Minnesota until her death in 2016. The book is published by South Carolina Press.

 More about Diagnosing Madness

Diagnosing Madness examines how psychiatry was navigated by patients, families, doctors, the general public and the legal system. The results of examining those involved and their interactions show that the psychiatrist’s task became one of constant persuasion, producing arguments surrounding diagnosis and asylum confinement that attempted to reconcile shifting definitions of disease and to respond to sociocultural pressures. 

By studying patient cases, the emerging literature of confinement, and patient accounts viewed alongside institutional records, the authors trace the evolving rhetoric of psychiatric disease, its impact on the treatment of patients, its implications for our contemporary understanding of mental illness, and the identity of the psychiatric patient. Diagnosing Madness helps elucidate the larger rhetorical forces that contributed to the eventual decline of the asylum and highlights the struggle for the professionalization of psychiatry.

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