It’s the American dream—unfettered freedom to follow our ambitions, to forge our identities, to become self-made. But what if our culture of limitless self-fulfillment is actually making millions desperately ill? One of our leading interpreters of modernity and nationalism, Liah Greenfeld argues that we have overlooked the connection between egalitarian society and mental illness. Intellectually fearless, encompassing philosophy, psychology, and history, Mind, Modernity, Madness challenges the most cherished assumptions about the blessings of living in a land of the free.
Modern nationalism, says Greenfeld, rests on bedrock principles of popular sovereignty, equality, and secularism. Citizens of the twenty-first century enjoy unprecedented freedom to become the authors of their personal destinies. Empowering as this is, it also places them under enormous psychic strain. They must constantly appraise their identities, manage their desires, and calibrate their place within society. For vulnerable individuals, this pressure is too much. Training her analytic eye on extensive case histories in manic depression and schizophrenia, Greenfeld contends that these illnesses are dysfunctions of selfhood caused by society’s overburdening demands for self-realization. In her rigorous diagnosis, madness is a culturally constituted malady.
The culminating volume of Greenfeld’s nationalism trilogy, Mind, Modernity, Madness is a tour de force in the classic tradition of Émile Durkheim—and a bold foray into uncharted territory. Often counter-intuitive, always illuminating, Mind, Modernity, Madness presents a many-sided view of humanity, one that enriches our deepest understanding of who we are and what we aspire to be.
Mind, Modernity, Madness displays an astonishing level of research...Greenfeld's book most persuasively demonstrates the lack of consensus in the scientific community and beyond, over the causes, treatment and prevalence of schizophrenia and manic depression, both in America and worldwide...Liah Greenfeld's call for a broader understanding of the role of culture in the growth of the illnesses of schizophrenia and manic depression seems perfectly timed to join the debate over the balance between science and culture in the diagnosis and treatment of these complex illnesses.
Liah Greenfeld has written a book of weight (figuratively and literally) and power. It is an avalanche that pulls the reader with it into a new landscape.
Explaining madness in cultural terms is what makes Greenfeld's book so audacious. A classical parallel would be with Durkheim's attempt to explain suicide through sociological categories. Her reasoning is strong; the data extensive; the conclusions counterintuitive. The book represents a triumph of imaginative thought.
What most distinguishes Greenfeld's model of the mind from so much else in the field is that she brings together biological and cultural approaches to mental illness inclusively rather than exclusively, in a way that enlarges rather than diminishes both. While accepting the biological reality of major mental illnesses, her analysis is focused not simply on the brain, in a reductive sense, but on the mind as a product of experience and learning as well as biology. Likewise, she applies cultural concepts to psychiatry not in the reductive, purely social-constructionist manner of Laing, Foucault, and Szasz, but so as to foster understanding of cultural and historical variations in the incidence and expression of mental illness that biology alone cannot explain.
Greenfeld offers a sweeping, sociologically grounded theory of the relationship between madness, mind, and society…It is a significant contribution to understanding mental illness and the more general interplay between mind, self, and society.
[A] magnificent sweep of several fields…Those apt to gain most from Greenfeld’s remarkable tome are biological psychiatrists, legislators, and community leaders. Physicians, behavioral scientists, futurists, parents, and academicians will find the read exhilarating and useful. Cultural psychiatrists, ethnopsychiatric investigators, and psychiatric epidemiologists--those least apt to realize totally new understandings--will still find their comprehensions expanded in unanticipated ways.
- 688 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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