Traumatic, neurotic, hysterical: the psychiatric production of sovereign German order, 1871-1969

Jung, Laura (2021) Traumatic, neurotic, hysterical: the psychiatric production of sovereign German order, 1871-1969. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

[img] PDF - Published Version
Download (1MB)


This thesis examines psychiatric knowledge and treatment of trauma in Germany between 1871 and 1969. I argue that psychiatric knowledge is more than a technology of security and must be considered a form of statecraft as it produces sovereign political orders. Drawing on the work of Richard Ashley and Sylvia Wynter, I trace how psychiatric knowledge of trauma functions to produce these orders by inscribing figures of ‘Man’ and his human Others. I analyse these processes of inscription through a genealogy of psychiatric statecraft, which I conduct through a reading of psychiatric and neurological textbooks, journal articles, expert statements, and conference proceedings.

I examine three diagnostic disputes over the genesis and treatment of trauma, involving industrial workers in the 1870s and 1880s, WWI soldiers, and Jewish Holocaust survivors in the post-WWII period. In each of these cases, psychiatric practitioners debated whether or not ‘nervous’ symptoms in trauma patients actually resulted from a distressing event and thus entitled sufferers to forms of financial compensation. Many psychiatrists argued that only the expectation of a pension generated these symptoms, and that this was most commonly found in persons with an ‘abnormal’ character or ‘inferior’ constitution.

I observe that the knowledgeable production of political order was subject to shifting dynamics over the 100-year period I scrutinize in the thesis. While some periods were characterized by vigorous disagreement in psychiatric discourse on the ‘proper’ attributes of the sovereign subject, at other times, psychiatric knowledge ossified into an enforced consensus in which political subjectivity was fully commensurate with the ‘fitness’ of the physical body. I find that from the 1910s until the late 1950s, German psychiatry produced an account of political subjectivity which located danger in bodily ‘inferiority’, thus lending authority to a violent politics of marginalization and mass death of racialized and disabled populations.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Global Studies > International Relations
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DD History of Germany > DD084 History > DD121 By period > DD175 Modern, 1519- > DD201 19th-20th centuries
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0321 Neurosciences. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry > RC0438 Psychiatry, including Psychopathology
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 23 Apr 2021 12:59
Last Modified: 23 Apr 2021 12:59

View download statistics for this item

📧 Request an update