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Rätten att benämna: Maktutövning i Amalie Skrams psykiatriromaner
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Literature and History of Ideas, History of Literature.
2014 (Swedish)Independent thesis Advanced level (degree of Master (Two Years)), 10 credits / 15 HE creditsStudent thesisAlternative title
The right to name : The excercise of power in Amalie Skram's psychiatry novels (English)
Abstract [en]

Amalie Skram (1846-1905) was born in Norway but lived in Denmark. She published several books about gender relations and built up a reputation as a naturalistic writer. In 1894, a nervous breakdown made her seek help from the famous psychiatrist Knud Pontoppidan. He sent her to an asylum, but she returned home after spending two months in psychiatric care. In 1895, Skram published two novels about the painter Else Kant, based on her own experiences but not written as autobiographies. The books, Professor Hieronimus and På Sct. Jørgen, came to be part of an ongoing debate about the rights of psychiatric patients.

My purpose is to analyze the exercise of power in Skram's portrayal of psychiatry, especially the way it is gendered. The power relations are examined with concepts established by Foucault in his power analysis and with relevant medical history as a context. I treat the books as fictive narratives, that should not be seen as describing Skram's own experiences.

My result actualizes several of Foucault's main concepts. Psychiatry works through the power to define – the right to give a name. Psychiatry define what madness is, and thus what normality is. The patient is, when defined as mad, also defined as unable to tell the truth about herself and the world. The treatment is a project of normalization and moral upbringing, where the patient is required to learn the norms she is thought to lack, and also to control her feelings instead of expressing them. Hysteria is the diagnosis for expressing strong feelings and can be read as an opposition to the male society, as well as the medical system.

Gazes play a big part in these two books. Else is looked at by the medical, defining, gaze. She is herself observing the psychiatry and uses her gaze to look at the other patients in a way that raises questions about both abnormality and normality. In my reading, the gaze exercises power and the so called "male gaze" can also be used by women.

The text is ambivalent concerning Else's possible madness. She is described as troubled and almost psychotic in the beginning, but later as sane. My conclusion is that Else gains her own form of sanity, not because of the treatment, but as a way of opposing it. Else is never made an object by the objectifying medical gaze. Instead, she creates herself as an agent and a subject. She is defined as mad, but is determined to in turn define and describe the psychiatry as a form of counter-power. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2014. , 68 p.
Keyword [en]
Power, psychiatry, normality, madness, gender, Foucault
Keyword [sv]
Makt, psykiatri, normalitet, galenskap, genus, Foucault
National Category
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-110519OAI: diva2:772013
Available from: 2014-12-16 Created: 2014-12-15 Last updated: 2014-12-16Bibliographically approved

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