Introducing: Lauren Farquharson

Lauren Farquharson is currently undertaking a PhD in the School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow, and supervised by Prof. Chris Philo and Dr. Cheryl McGeachan. She can be contacted by e-mail: l.farquharson.1@research.gla.ac.uk

Parochial asylums and poorhouse lunatic wards – where the Scottish Poor and Lunacy Laws collided

My research focuses on parochial asylums and poorhouse lunatic wards; institutional spaces which remain deeply unfamiliar and unknown in the landscape of nineteenth century Scottish pauper lunacy. These sites embody contestation and ambiguity, lingering on the edges of the more familiar topography of royal and district asylums. Parochial asylums and poorhouse lunatic wards represent the grounded manifestation of the collision between two spheres of legislation – the Poor Law 1845 and the Lunacy Law 1857. Parochial asylums in particular – six of which were constructed in the latter half of the nineteenth century – express the enduring mandate and preeminence of the Scottish Poor Law over the domain of ‘madness’. They were institutions whose very existence was fashioned into being at the directive of the local arm of the Poor Law, the parochial board. This deed subverted the intentions and objectives of the Lunacy Act – the aim of which had been to institute a public district asylum network in which all pauper lunatics were to have been relocated – casting it aside in order to pave the way for a continuing ‘Scottish Poor Law of Lunacy’ (Bartlett, 1999). These sites symbolise zones of ‘legal indistinction’ and can be theorised as ‘spaces of the exception’ (Agamben, 1998; 2005). They are sites which encompass a host of tensions and contradictions between the Scottish Poor and Lunacy Laws; national and local authorities; and ‘State’ and ‘Law’. Being primarily urban phenomena, they represent key sites in which to examine in order to detect associations of ‘madness’, poverty and urbanism (linking to matters of capitalist industrialisation and social class). My research aims to explore the gaps between legislation and grounded practices, tracing out how these played out with respect to the curious phenomena of parochial asylums and poorhouse lunatic wards. By novel usage of largely untapped documentary sources, I aim to reveal something of the entangled geographies of these spaces in which the Poor and Lunacy Laws became enmeshed and entangled; reconstructing their geographies as they emerged and transformed. I will use a mixture of top-level papers from national bodies (including the Boards of Supervision and Lunacy), local level archival sources (from parochial authorities and district boards), and all available institutional material and local records (newspapers, photographs, memoirs). The aim is to illuminate parochial asylums and poorhouse lunatic wards as spaces which were at the epicentre of the treatment of the ‘mad’ pauper, situated at a juncture of legality and illegality – spaces of both indistinction and exception. This research will contribute to historical geographies of ‘madness’, asylums and psychiatry in Scotland; fields which are making continued interventions into psychiatric, medical and social history.

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