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Radical Psychiatry and 1968


The Verso blog is running an ongoing series about the impact of the 1968 uprisings on various nations and currents of thoughts. In one of the most recent article in the series, historian and theorist Hannah Proctor examines how radical psychiatry influenced—and was influenced by—the events of May '68 in Europe and elsewhere. Here’s an excerpt from the fascinating piece:

If the asylum could be treated as a microcosm of society at large, conversely, experiments in establishing alternative psychiatric institutions and practices could function as prefigurative spaces gesturing towards a non-hierarchical society to come. Though the scale of these experiments were relatively modest in comparison to the strikes, occupations and demonstrations of the era, concrete radical psychiatric practices preceded 1968 and went on to become sites embedded in broader political struggles as they unfolded. John Foot describes Gorizia, an asylum in Northern Italy where the Italian psychiatrist Franco Basaglia had instigated a series of reforms, as a ‘mecca for the 1968 generation’ and a magnet for journalists hoping to glimpse ‘the miracle-spectacle of the mad discussing how to manage their own hospital, the spectacle of a group of lunatics who really had taken over an asylum.’ Kingsley Hall in East London, where Laing was rumoured to keep the fridge stocked with LSD, drew countercultural celebrities and people curious about communal living, as well as those seeking an alternative to the mainstream mental health system. Though the abolition of hierarchies, structures and specialisms in theory did not necessarily mean they were overcome in practice; dismantling routines, reorganising spaces, redefining roles and redistributing activities did not automatically entail the destruction of structural inequalities between people

Image: RD Laing with his his wife, Jutta. Via The Independent.