Madness and Crime
By Philip Bean
Devon, UK: Willan Publishing. 2008
The main thesis of this book, if there can be said to be one, is that madness is socially situated and institutionally constructed. While a focus on socially situating “madness” as opposed to ‘insanity’ and its confrontation with medico-legal systems sounds promising and timely, this collection of essays ultimately disappoints. The author’s introductory essay aims at establishing the definitional scope of his chosen term “madness” in classical and literary context, and explicitly de-centering the medical and psychiatric model. However, the choice of references is quixotic and breezy with an emphasis on Shakespeare’s Lear (but no Quixote), mere passing mention of important works on the history and social context of the psychiatric discipline, (such as Foucault) and no mention of writers and poets who have created works out of the crucible of their own troubled minds (e.g. Coleridge, Blake, Poe, Plath, Woolf, Burroughs, et.al).
The author suggests that there are “numerous aetiologies [of madness] embedded deep within our consciousness” (3) but does not state what they are. His “eclectic view of madness” (4) bounds from mere mention of the era of the ancient Greeks, to the 17th century, early 19th century and back to the New Testament in a single paragraph, with casual name-dropping along the way.
The author eschews the disease model of psychiatry but must make the case clearly as to why it is inadequate to his project – presumably he wants to expand consideration to a broader spectrum of madness to include the eccentric and the lovesick, the visionary and the prophetic, but to exclude the neurotic and psychopathic, but the author must tell us why this gerrymandered catchment is useful and to what end.
The project of this book is to locate madness outside of determinism and to explore how it is interpreted and managed by the mad themselves. The whole is plagued by poorly edited writing, with weakly structured or fragmented sentences, mixed metaphors and dangling referents. However, after establishing the preliminary thesis that madness exists on a spectrum and is multidimensional and thus receptive to systems of inquiry outside of psychiatry, the first essay settles into a discussion of the commonalities of the state of madness, here identified as the extent of reasonableness of one’s beliefs and the social settings of their expression.
The author asserts, in addition, that behaviour is more likely judged “mad” where it is regarded as morally reprehensible. Although he declares to be not confrontational, his thesis is undermined by those sections that spin off into generalized and unsubstantiated criticism of the psychiatric profession longing for scientific legitimacy (8), a dismissal of psychological/therapeutic speak (which he confesses not to understand), (23) and a proliferation of disorders/syndromes associated with sadness and other “problems of living” (39). While all positions are viable, scholarship demands that the case not only be asserted, but also made out with evidence.
The author concentrates in one section on philosopher John Locke who proposed a theory of knowledge premised on sensation and perception, with the mad impaired due to mistaken or wrong reasoning. He attempts to link Locke’s ideas with those of modern empirical psychiatric theory, but if this legacy is owed, it is not explicitly recognized, and it is difficult to understand the emphasis in a modern context.
Part II concerns the correlations between madness and creativity. The author asks, is there a link between madness, creativity and genius? At the brief historical overview of others, based on the neuropathic and statistical methods he condemns in Part I, he concludes that the link between madness and genius, if there is one, is weak.
In Part III, the author proposes to examine the practice and rationales for compulsory detention, arguing that whether or not detention is compulsory is complicated by the gradations of compulsion inherent in informal, but coerced admissions, and voluntariness shaped by an inadequacy of resources necessary to sustain independence. He contends that detention ought not to be arbitrary, and by the criminal law standard, British legislation governing mental health (referring to the Mental Health Bill 2006) does not meet this expectation, with its broad definitional criteria of mental disorder and disability of the mind, safety and protection issues and discretionary enforcement.
Although he accepts the rationale that some degree of paternalism is necessary to protect the vulnerable, the author cautions that detention denotes blame and therefore legal protections are necessary. While it wanders among considerations of negative liberty, paternalism, legislative reform and relevant actors, this chapter reads as the most internally cohesive.
The concluding chapter discusses methodological concerns with research on madness and crime, and that data are typically drawn from offender and in-patient populations, often begging the question. The author concludes with a proposed model, intended to identify links between madness and crime and the possible combinations of co-morbidity between them. After stating that the current research is inadequate, he then goes on to examine certain of this data, interpreting and adapting it in some instances, and extrapolating from a wide-ranging selection of sources to support his claims.
Overall, this book is like so many, a latterly collection of articles with a loosely common theme. More could be done to edit its tangential discussions and unify its concerns. As to the research agenda on madness and crime, this remains a growth industry for criminologists and forensic psychologists. The author’s contribution merely underscores how little policy development in this field relies on evidence-based meta-analysis.