Ritualizing Madness: Case Files as Sites of Enforced Performativity, 1894-1950
In this article, I argue that case files kept by doctors, nurses, and attendants in Canadian Asylums, act as sites of performative madness enforced by the observer. In applying Foucauldian and performance theories, I look at the production of knowledge, and influence of power, which allow for the encoding of madness as a ritualized behaviour that is repeatable outside of the individual being recorded as mad. To illustrate this point, I use several case files from the Brockville Asylum to highlight how certain physical characteristics and behaviours were pathologized to support the medical argument that the inmate in question was in fact mad and belonged in the asylum. I suggest that one is not born mad, but they become mad through enforced ideas of madness, which enforced by the observer’s categorization of a physical characteristic or behaviour as mad.
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