Madness As An Individual Attribute Or A Process Of Social Construction

3787 words - 15 pages

Madness as An Individual Attribute Or A Process Of Social Construction

Madness is a largely contentious issue for a variety of reasons,
comprising of operational discrepancies and its implications for wider
society. In a very rudimentary sense madness implies a state of
insanity beyond the control or will of the person considered to be
mad. This however presupposes the existence of madness as tangible or
concrete phenomena and dismisses the possibility that 'madness' may
simply be the product or expression of alternate truths or different
expressions of reality. In other words one may question whether the
behaviour of the individual is abnormal enough to be located outside
the realm of normal human functioning and whether the reason behind
this is truly 'madness'? These questions are ultimately philosophical
and ultimately unanswerable. But asking such questions does not
entirely unrewarding, since it is our societal understand which
informs our treatment of the mad. Principal to this essay is an
understanding of social representations of madness, which comprise of
notions what is assumed to be normal within a society, wherein lies
the danger of relegating the experiences of the mentally ill as
abnormal and something to be rejected. Subsequently, in order to
establish whether madness is an individual attribute or social
construction, it is important to try to analyse the various
differences in representations/ allocations of madness across time and
across different perspectives. This essay will provide an insight into
the problematic nature of madness, by assessing the contribution of
psychiatrists and psychologists, against the criticisms and
allegations of 'de-humanization' made against them by social
constructionists such as Foucault and Goffman, in order to locate the
origins of madness.

Moscovici originally developed the 'social representations' theory to
provide an understanding of the fluid processes through which
historically and culturally specific beliefs, knowledge and practices
develop and circulate. It describes how through conversation,
practices and the media we as individuals and communities make sense
of the world. It is a sociological notion of shared knowledge and
beliefs, rather like the Durkheimian concept of collective
representations, which pervade the individual as well as wider
societal thinking. In the representational world we use schemata that
provide a reference point for the individual to negotiate different
life experiences. Such representations are cognitive strategies
employed by the human mind to give order to facts, events and
theories; they are not truths or untruths, simply instrumental
ordering principles.

Subsequently, it has been argued by Goffman that the actual behaviour
of the individual is less important than the [societal]...

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