The Locational History of Scotland’s District Lunatic Asylums, 1857-1913

Thesis Abstract

Kim Ross

This thesis looks into the later ‘Asylum Age’ in Scotland, concentrating on the legislation and construction of Scotland’s district lunatic asylums from the passing of the Lunacy (Scotland) Act, 1857 to the Mental Deficiency and Lunacy (Scotland) Act, 1913. Concentrating on the specific geographies of the asylums, what Foucault refers to as “the space reserved by society for insanity” (Foucault, 1965:251), the thesis weaves a new route between previous radical/critical and progressive/simplistic interpretations of the ‘Asylum Age’, by integrating a Foucauldian interpretation with non-representational theories around the engineering of affective atmospheres. This more nuanced approach, which concentrates on the ‘affective power’ of the institutions across different geographical scales (site and situation, grounds and buildings), recognises the ways in which Scotland’s district asylums, constructed predominantly for pauper patients, were moulded and reshaped as the discourses around the treatment of insanity were developed. The moral, medical and hygienic dimensions to the discourses ultimately outlined the institutional geography, by having a profound influence on asylum location and layout. The ideal district ‘blueprint’ for asylum siting and design, as put forward by the Scottish Lunacy Commissioners, is uncovered and reconstructed by ‘picking out’ the macro and micro-geographies discussed in the annual reports of the General Board. The research then moves to uncover the system ‘on the ground’ as it was constructed in bricks-and-mortar by the various district boards. As asylum location and architecture was a relatively novel concern, questions of siting and design became more pertinent, and indeed central, in institutional planning during the decades after the mid-century lunacy reforms. Thus, despite periods of waning enthusiasm for the institution as a mechanism for ‘curing’ insanity, fitting the building to its purposes continually involved a variety of structural innovations, stylistic refinements and new ways of organising the external and internal spaces of the asylums.

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