Book review: Caring Architecture

Re-blogged from BMJ Blogs:

Caring Architecture: Institutions and Relational Practices by Catharina Nord and Ebba Högström, Newcastle Upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishers, 2017, 220 pages.

Book review by Cris Sarg (University of Glasgow)

Caring Architecture: Institutions and Relational Practices is an edited collection by Catharina Nord and Ebba Högström that had its genesis in a session of the 2014 Royal Geographical Society – Institute of British Geographers (RGS-IBG) Annual International Conference that was held in London. With this in mind, it is no surprise that the papers that comprise this volume approach medical humanities from a human geography perspective, examining institutional spaces in both historical and contemporary contexts.

The overarching aim of this book is ‘to elucidate how architectural space in institutions is involved in processes of complex ordering – the kind of ordering which destabilises order, as it were – thereby hopefully contributing a more detailed and nuanced image of what it is that is happening in institutional care today’ (10). Chapters 1, 2, 3 and 6 examine various contemporary institutional spaces such as hospitals, residential facilities and assisted living for the elderly in Sweden. The first chapter by Erling Björgvinsson and Gunnar Sandin focuses on the experience of hospital patients and ‘spatial manoeuvring and norms that emerge when [these] patients negotiate and align [themselves] with the hospital’s culture’ (15). Therefore, they argue that ‘the appearance of vagueness [within these spaces] must inevitably arise, but that there are different types of vagueness.’ (34)

In the second chapter, Susanne Severinsson examines the fluctuating and stabilising aspects of an art studio/room and materiality within the context of a residential care facility for troubled teenagers, arguing that a lack of ‘structure’ within these spaces, as viewed through several lenses, such as art lessons, psychotherapy, amusement, and imprisonment, make it possible to capture mobility and flow and provide an example of a ‘paradoxical space’. Then in Chapter 3, Catherina Nord explores the essential goals of assisted living – autonomy, privacy and dignity – through an examination of its historical and architectural roots with the support of the Deleuzian/Guattarian concept of stratum. Nord argues that ‘residents’ privacy, autonomy, and dignity are negotiated in refreshingly de-territorialising processes in which architectural space is at stake.’ (80) In Chapter 6, Morgan Andersson also focuses on an assisted living facility. Andersson argues that, despite spatial limitations, the usability of the facility is in continual negotiation, conceived, perceived and lived between the environment and users in the performance of spaces, artefacts and residents.

In contrast, Chapters 4, 5 and 7 take a historical turn in their examination of asylums or mental hospitals in Scotland and mental health clinics in Sweden. Chapter 4 by Kim Ross examines the engineering of affective atmospheres within the interior of nineteenth-century Scottish asylum spaces. Ross argues that the moral, medical and hygienic discourses of the period had a profound influence on the arrangement and use of both internal and external spaces of these asylums, with the hope that these engineered spaces would affect the behaviour of these patients. In Chapter 5, Cheryl McGeachan examines the work of Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing who became well known for his humanist approaches to psychiatric care and was a prominent figure within the anti-psychiatry movement. The main thrust of this chapter is the complex network between spaces of care, the psychiatric encounter and the worlds of individuals experiencing mental ill health from which new subjectivities emerge, in addition to illustrating the impact Laing’s experience with the patients of the ‘rumpus room’ had on his ‘(re)configuration of psychiatric practice and the space of mental care.’ (126) Finally, in Chapter 7, Ebba Högström examines the difficulties of translating specific spatial experiences into general design recommendations through an exploration of the organisation, design, experiences and representations of Saltsjöbaden Mental Health Centre, which opened in 1975 as part of the decentralisation movement in Sweden. Högström concludes that any guidelines that are established as a result of this experiment are only stable for a short time and that ‘this way of thinking entails broader (re)presentational repertories for architects and other spatial agents working in the care industry, particularly when translating immaterialities and materialities into guidelines for future caring architecture.’ (162)

The strength and weakness of this collection is its temporal scope, in that the topics that are discussed within stretch from the Victorian period until relatively recently, which can be somewhat jarring when the collection is read from cover to cover. Since most readers will focus on the sections that are most relevant to their research, this weakness becomes less prominent. Overall it illustrates that mores – moral, medical, and political – evolve and change over time as regards all types of institutional provisions, encompassing the physical and psychological needs of patients/residents and staff. Simply put, there are more points of convergence than would be expected on the surface.


CFP: 2nd International Conference for Carceral Geography 11-12 Dec 2017, University of Birmingham

Papers and sessions are now invited for the 2nd International Conference for Carceral Geography, to be held at the University of Birmingham on 11th and 12th December 2017.

Keynote speakers include:

The conference will also feature a screening of Brett Story’s The Prison In Twelve Landscapes, dedicated activities for Postgraduate Researchers, a drinks reception, a conference dinner, and the first AGM of the Carceral Geography Working Group of the RGS-IBG (CGWG).

2017 is a milestone year for Carceral Geography. It marks forty years after the English translation ofDiscipline and Punish, twenty years after Teresa Dirsuweit’s ground-breaking study of women’s incarceration in South Africa, and ten years after the publication of Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s Golden Gulag. Given the rapid development of the sub-discipline since and through these milestone publications, the intention of this conference is to recognise the founding of the CGWG in 2017 with an event which both reflects the diversity and energy of this area of research, and enables further interdisciplinary dialogue and development.

Carceral geography research is rich, diverse and multi-scalar, focusing on wider structural, political and institutional contexts as well as on everyday experiences, practices and agency; it is sensitive to change and difference across space and time, space/time, and between cultures and jurisdictions. Of particular note is the breadth of empirical focus; on spaces of ‘mainstream’ incarceration of ‘criminals’ for custodial sentences imposed by the prevailing legal system; spaces of migrant detention which confine irregular or non-status migrants pending decisions on admittance or removal; the overlaps and synergies between these spaces, their functional and post-functional lives, and also their porosity, in that techniques and technologies of confinement seep out of ‘carceral’ spaces into everyday, domestic, street, and institutional spaces. It also increasingly recognises ‘the carceral’ as spatial, emplaced, mobile, embodied and affective. A vibrant research dialogue has started to coalesce around the notion of the ‘carceral’ – asking what this term means, what it signifies, what its explanatory and critical purchase might be, and the extent to which it is anchored in or limited by its etymology in relation to the prison.

This CFP is intentionally broad, reflecting the diversity and expansive nature of carceral geography. A series of keynote addresses will progress thinking about the nature of the carceral, and carceral geography’s interdisciplinary perspective, but paper presenters and session conveners are at liberty to propose contributions which approach the carceral from any ontological, disciplinary or sub-disciplinary orientation, conceiving of it at any spatial scale and manifestation. Indicative, but by no means prescriptive or restrictive topics could include: emotional geographies of carceral spaces, negotiation of material and imagined carcerality; individual experiences of carcerality; carceral subgroups like young people; multi-sensory carcerality and carceral atmospherics; mobile and embodied carcerality; the ‘trans’, ‘hyper’ or ‘quasi’-carceral; carceral circuitry; logics of confinement; the post-disciplinary prison; carceral metaphors; scholar-activism in carceral geography; carceral ‘crises and the il/legitimacy of carceral institutions.

Within this intentionally expansive call, papers/sessions which address the ethics of carceral geography research are particularly welcome, perhaps reflecting the extent to which carceral geographers are or should be motivated by a desire to address carceral crises by effecting change to carceral institutions; what kind of change this is, how this is to be achieved, and the role of the researcher/scholar-activist. Papers which consider ‘violence’, conceptually and/or with regard to lived carceral experience, and those which sit at the intersection between carceral and children’s geographies, perhaps considering youth custody, are also welcome.

Please submit paper abstracts of up to 300 words by 1st October 2017. For session proposals, please submit up to 4 paper abstracts or 3 paper abstracts plus a proposed discussant, with an accompanying 300 word session abstract, by the same date. (Other session formats are also welcome – please contact the organisers to discuss well ahead of the submission date.) Selection decisions will be made by 31st October 2017.

Conference registration will be free, but options of catering, a conference dinner, and on-campus accommodation will be charged at cost price. These will be bookable individually via the conference website, which will also carry suggestions of alternative accommodation. The conference website will be launched shortly.

There will be a limited number of travel and accommodation bursaries available for paper presenters. These will be limited to £50 for speakers travelling from the UK outside of London; £100 for speakers travelling from London, and £200 for speakers travelling from outside the UK. Accommodation bursaries will be limited to £50.

Abstract submissions and Session proposals should be submitted on the Abstract Submission form or the Session proposal form (both of which ask for information about any travel and accommodation bursaries required) and emailed to; and by 1st October 2017

Conference organisers plan to include dedicated activities for Postgraduate Researchers within the conference programme. Both Doctoral and Masters students are warmly invited to contact the organisers by 1st October 2017 to express interest, in order to contribute to the design of these activities. Please email; by 1st October 2017

Further details, and links to abstract and session forms, are available at


Review: History of asylums, insanity and psychiatry in Scotland, History of Psychiatry (2017)

By Ebba Högström

When reading the newly published special issue History of asylums, insanity and psychiatry in Scotland in the journal History of Psychiatry (SAGE, March 2017, vol 28, issue 1), edited by Chris Philo and Jonathan Andrews, it struck me how diverse this history is. There is not one consistent history working through towards the present on a linear trajectory; rather, it is about histories in the plural, as topics, time, spaces, people, laws, regulations, resistances and care regimes emerge differently through the array of different foci displayed by these eight papers display.

In the introduction, the guest editors point out that there is much in the history of Scottish psychiatry yet to be told, at the same time as they stress how such studies should move beyond simplistic national contextualisations. Rather, the significance of such studies should reveal broader patterns in “a pan-European, or geographically and conceptually wider, transformation of ideas and practices impinging on the mental health dimensions of human vulnerability” (p2).  Localised history became relevant “when set in a broader framing of how ideas and practices travel between places” (ibid.) and take place in shaping new landscapes of “cure and care or neglect and stigma” (ibid.). The combination of local situations connecting to general levels – into institutions, policies, illnesses and psychiatric care, wherever they might be situated around the globe – is a most significant feature of the field of history of psychiatry, and the papers in this special issue are no exception. Whereas all eight papers concentrate on events within the geographical area of Scotland, they simultaneously stretch out differently in time, situation, place and angle.

The contributions in this special issue thus range between overviewing work, addressing long-term trends and broader periods and systems, and detailed studies of specific ‘individuals and institutions’. Farquharson gives an overview of the ‘unfamiliar institutional spaces’ of the parochial asylum caught in between the two spheres of legislation, the Poor Law and the Lunacy Law, during the second half of the 19th century. She brings forward how this system was a way to take control over the care (and sometimes even the cure) of the poorest people who would otherwise have been caught up in poorhouses. At the turn of the nineteenth into the twentieth century, the spatial organisation of asylums of all kinds was under discussion, and Almond highlights one such spatial plan, the ‘village system’, as mirroring a specifically Scottish emphasis on liberty and freedom. Ideas of the ‘homely’ and the ‘individual’ are discussed with references to Calvinistic ideas of improvement by self-awareness which could be manifested in a distinctive institutional layout without enclosing spatial forms. Moving towards the 1960s and 1970s, Long shows us how changes within the institutional boundaries of Scottish mental hospitals took place due to deinstitutionalisation policies usually pressing care and treatment “outside the walls”. Political-legislative regulations from postwar times made deinstitutionalisation a slower process than in England, with the effect that asylums were renewed rather than rejected. During the same period patients started to fight for liberty and justice, a theme covered in Gallagher´s paper. Gallagher gives an overview and a detailed story of one specific individual as stories of the agitation by the Scottish Union of Mental Patients (SUMP) and the individual political struggle by Thomas Richie, a patient and the founder of SUMP are unfolded.

Through individual accounts of women patients from Dundee Royal Lunatic Asylum diagnosed as suffering from ‘puerperal insanity’, Campbell moves to the mid-nineteenth century and poses questions about the motives for such a diagnosis. She wonders whether this diagnosis was more likely to ‘fit’ the middle and upper-class woman, as precedents of a Victorian motherhood ideal, thus excluding working class women. Morrison’s contribution places itself  in the beginning of twentieth century, when the emergence of so-called ‘dynamic psychiatry took place. Morrison outlines the early career of the psychiatrist, and later superintendent at Gartnavel Royal Hospital (GRA) in Glasgow, David Henderson, the linkage to the leading figure of North American psychiatry Adolf Meyer, and the deployment of the ‘case conference approach’. Another influential psychiatrist, Thomas Ferguson Rodger, also connected to Henderson and Meyer and, as the editors formulate it, a possible ‘missing link’ between Henderson and R.D. Laing, is the theme of Phelan’s paper.  She considers the eclectic psychiatric approach of Fergusson, in many cases more psychodynamic and socially-oriented than were his predecessors, and (because of that) more alert to psychiatry’s limitations. Another angle of psychiatric care and cure is presented by McGeachan through the “Art extraordinary” works collected by Joyce Laing, Scotland’s first psychiatric art therapist. McGeachan reconstructs the ‘voice’ of Adam Christie, a patient at the Royal Montrose Asylum, through his stone-head carvings, highlighting the importance of ‘small spaces’ – e.g. gardens, paths, studios and boats – for the everyday life of patients, a valuable and underused source in tracing geographical histories of asylum experiences.

This compilation of Scottish history of psychiatry is completed by a Classic Text, here an excerpt from a 1860 text Philosophy of Insanity by the GRA patient James Frame. Patient voices are seldom heard in the history of psychiatry, most often they arrive indirectly through case notes, or sometimes more directly through letters kept in the case notes records. Frame’s chronicle of mental health care of the past, and the many themes addressed, echoes in an intriguing way contemporary public debates, marking a line of continuity. So, as mentioned in the beginning of this review, it is striking to contemplate the many ways in which the history of psychiatry can be told, and at the same time the range of similarities of these histories over time and space.


Twitter: @ebba_hogstrom



New paper: ‘It used to be here but moved somewhere else’: post-asylum spatialisations – a new urban frontier?

Exciting new research paper on changing landscapes of mental health care in Sweden

Asylum and Post-Asylum Spaces

‘It used to be here but moved somewhere else’: post-asylum spatialisations – a new urban frontier?

Ebba Högström

Social & Cultural Geography


This paper presents a number of spatialisations of mental health care in Sweden, exemplifying these spatialities in three vignettes drawn from the Swedish post-asylum landscape. Working with the notion of a ‘new urban frontier’, I examine: (1) how these landscapes have been transformed by processes of decentralisation and austerity measures; (2) how this transformation plays out within and through physical space; and (3) the new spatial relations that are produced through such transformations. The idea of ‘landscapes of care’ and the concept of ‘multiscalarity’ are used to understand the changing spatialisations evident in mental health care, and the shift we are presently witnessing which replaces the tangible spaces of ‘bricks and mortar’ of the past with, rather, a diversity of settings, localisations and administrations. The empirical…

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New paper: ‘It used to be here but moved somewhere else’: post-asylum spatialisations – a new urban frontier?

‘It used to be here but moved somewhere else’: post-asylum spatialisations – a new urban frontier?

Ebba Högström

Social & Cultural Geography


This paper presents a number of spatialisations of mental health care in Sweden, exemplifying these spatialities in three vignettes drawn from the Swedish post-asylum landscape. Working with the notion of a ‘new urban frontier’, I examine: (1) how these landscapes have been transformed by processes of decentralisation and austerity measures; (2) how this transformation plays out within and through physical space; and (3) the new spatial relations that are produced through such transformations. The idea of ‘landscapes of care’ and the concept of ‘multiscalarity’ are used to understand the changing spatialisations evident in mental health care, and the shift we are presently witnessing which replaces the tangible spaces of ‘bricks and mortar’ of the past with, rather, a diversity of settings, localisations and administrations. The empirical material that forms the basis of the analysis derives from a larger study of spatial discourses in Swedish mental health care, which I carried out between 2008 and 2011. The paper concludes with some thoughts on the kinds of spatial relations evident within the post-asylum landscape of formal mental health care in times of austerity and decentralisation, wherein I consider whether these spatialisations can be regarded as a ‘new urban frontier of care’.

Glasgow History of Medicine Seminars

Venue: Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow Library Reading Room

Autumn 2016 Schedule:

  • Tuesday 15th November: Building for the mentally ill: from Bethlem to the community – Professor Richard Mindham (University of Leeds)
  • Tuesday 6th December: “Do you have a frog to guide you?”: exploring the ‘asylum’ spaces of R.D. Laing – Dr. Cheryl McGeachan (University of Glasgow)

The event is free but places are limited. To book, please contact or call 0141 221 6072.


Medical Humanities Discussion Group 2016/17

Medical Humanities Discussion Group 2016/17

Chair: Dr Cheryl McGeachan

All Sessions will take place between 1-2pm.

Wednesday 26th October

Session 1 – ‘Shakespeare and Madness: dramaturgies of mental illness in early modern England’

As part of my PhD research on madness in Shakespearean performance, this presentation examines dramaturgical approaches to representing insanity in Shakespeare’s plays. This involves an analysis of key trends in structure, style and character within both his comedic and tragic works. In doing so, I hope to explore how such patterns help construct meanings of madness by fitting into and/or challenging early modern psychological discourses.

Speaker: Molly Ziegler (PhD Candidate in Theatre Studies)

 Wednesday 16th November

Session 2 – Discovering Medical Humanities collections

How effectively are we promoting the University’s medical humanities collections? How easy are they to discover? Archives & Special Collections staff are keen to hear your thoughts as we review and revise online information about the University’s unique and distinctive research resources.

Speakers will be a selection of staff from Archives & Special Collections.

Wednesday 30th November

Session 3 – The Psychopolitics of Surplus Populations

In this talk I want to re-examine Karl Marx’s classic concept of “surplus population” in light of contemporary mental health insecurities. Doing so, I suggest, allows us to connect political economy with the very real psychological issues a growing number of people face on a daily basis. In this sense, the idea of alienation – critiques notwithstanding – might yet prove a (global) rallying concept at our dangerous conjecture.

Speaker: Dr Ian Shaw (School of Geographical & Earth Sciences)

The meetings will all take place in Room 414 in the East Quadrangle. Tea/coffee and biscuits will be provided.

east quad map

Please enter through the first turret and walk upstairs (a lift is available if required to the right of this picture) – keep going to the very top of the second staircase and turn left.