Madness Decolonized?: Madness as Transnational Identity in Gail Hornstein’s Agnes’s Jacket

Journal of Medical Humanities 39 (3):303-323 (2018)

The US psychologist Gail Hornstein’s monograph, Agnes’s Jacket: A Psychologist’s Search for the Meanings of Madness, is an important intervention in the identity politics of the mad movement. Hornstein offers a resignified vision of mad identity that embroiders the central trope of an “anti-colonial” struggle to reclaim the experiential world “colonized” by psychiatry. A series of literal and figurative appeals makes recourse to the inner world and cultural world of the mad as well as to the ethno-symbolic cultural materials of dormant nationhood. This rhetoric is augmented by a model in which the mad comprise a diaspora without an origin, coalescing into a single transnational community. The mad are also depicted as persons displaced from their metaphorical homeland, the “inner” world “colonized” by the psychiatric regime. There are a number of difficulties with Hornstein’s rhetoric, however. Her “ethnicity-and-rights” response to the oppression of the mad is symptomatic of Western parochialism, while her proposed transmutation of putative psychopathology from limit upon identity to parameter of successful identity is open to contestation. Moreover, unless one accepts Hornstein’s porous vision of mad identity, her self-ascribed insider status in relation to the mad community may present a problematic “re-colonization” of mad experience.
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DOI 10.1007/s10912-017-9434-8
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