Historical Perspectives on ‘ASPD’ and Moral Insanity

The first workshop was held, in collaboration with the Centre for the History of Emotions‘, on Monday May 12th 2014 at Queen Mary (University of London).  This was well attended and was ‘sold out’ some weeks before.

The day was spent considering the 200 + year history of the various related diagnoses from ‘manie sans delire’, the monomanias, moral insanity, psychopathy and ‘antisocial personality disorder’. The continuity between some of these quite variable categories is the search for a disorder that might manifest in ‘antisocial’ and sometimes violent behaviour whilst leaving an individual with the ability to reason clearly and not have other symptoms that might impact upon an individual’s ability to comprehend the world around them.

Nicole Rafter gave a paper that addressed the question about ‘why’ the various diagnoses had survived for as long as they had done so – given that the various diagnoses had always faced trenchant criticism. She argued that some of the key pressures came from ‘social control professionals’ who needed to justify their status and role by the claim to posses useful knowledge about dangerous individuals. In addition, she suggested, that ‘we’ as the general public also find these diagnoses comforting as explanations for dangerous and threatening behaviour.

David Jones traced some themes in the history of the diagnosis from its appearance towards the end of the 18th century through the 19th and into the 20th century. The categories have always been contentious as they are the product of 2 forces that are sometimes in conflict: the needs of criminal justice systems, and of the systems of welfare in relation to mental illness. He argued that ideas have always been crucially shaped in ‘the public sphere’ and were thus subject to ‘our’  fears, anxieties and hopes   – the particular problem being that anxiety was very present, not only about violence but also anxiety about sex and sexuality seemed to emerge quite frequently.

There were a series of papers that were telling the story of the history of these categories from different parts of the world. Emilia Musumeci traced the history of ‘moral insanity’ in Italy in 19th century, that was to produce the influential work of Cesare Lombroso. Felix Schermann discussed how biological theories came to dominate thinking on this issue in 19th century Germany.

Bollette Frydendahl Larsen described her research into how the category of psychopath was imported to Denmark as an explanation for young women whose behaviour came to be viewed as ‘incorrigible’ in the early 20th century.

Katariina Parhi talked about her research, the first of its kind, on the development of the use of the category of ‘psychopath’ in Finland.

More details are available below:

Professor Nicky Rafter The ‘need’ for the moral insanity diagnosis.Download paper
Dr David W Jones From Moral Insanity to Psychopathy: Degeneracy and Sexuality.’Download paper
Emilia Musumeci Moral insanity and deviance in the late 19th century ItalyMoral Insanity E.Musumeci
Felix Schirmann Anti-sociality materialized: Biology, mental disorder &
immorality, Germany 1900
Download paper
Bollette Frydendahl Larsen The Invention of ‘the psychopath Girl’ in DenmarkDownload paper
Katariina Parhi Managing the Misfits: The History of Psychopathy in Finland 1900-1968Katriina Parhi Managing Misfits_20140512 (1)