Book Fest 2015: Andrew Scull – A History of Insanity

Tuesday, August 18th
Chaired by Richard Holloway
Garden Theatre

 

Professor Andrew Scull of the University of California is a leading expert on the sociology of madness, and his latest work, Madness in Civilization, reflects just that. He joined Scottish writer and broadcaster, Richard Holloway, for a chat about his latest work and, more specifically, the clashes between Reason and Unreason throughout the centuries.

Some of us might react to the word ‘madness’ being used, as the term carries some problematic connotations. However, this is a deliberate choice from the author’s side, and it reflects a wider movement within the field to re-appropriate a term that has been used to legitimise the appalling treatment of individuals and their isolation from the wider community. Scull talked passionately about how various times and societies have responded to madness, and especially interesting was his insights into how the development of technology and medicine influenced the treatment methods being used. The images and photos shown on the big screen was not for the light hearted, as they gave explicit accounts of the atrocities carried out in the name of medicine, including lobotomies, asylums, and the like.

Despite its rather depressing history, and the challenges currently faced in relation to drug treatments and prisons taking over from the asylums, Scull shared with us his restrained optimism for the future. He did indeed agree with the need for more research into both traditional and alternative treatment methods; however, his perhaps strongest message was that people suffering from madness must be treated with respect in order to remove the taboo that still exists in relation to the mentally ill.

Although this event may have been interesting enough to induce the spectators to purchase Professor Scull’s new book, the current price tag of £28 did in the end make us change our minds. Nevertheless, Madness in Civilization might be a good candidate for your next library read, as it tells an important story of a group of people largely forgotten.

 

Photo: Edinburgh International Book Festival

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