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Alexander Dunst – Cold War Cures: Psychiatry as Alliance Politics in Sixties Britain and the United States
March 27, 2017 @ 5:00 pm - 6:30 pm
This talk will look at the curious role a radicalized psychiatry came to play in forging the counterculture of the Sixties. After World War II, psychology established itself as a privileged framework for understanding all aspects of modern life. In the process, prominent thinkers and social forces – from R. D. Laing to Herbert Marcuse, the Civil Rights Movement to Mental Patients’ Liberation – formulated social critique as medical diagnosis. As a consequence, reform or revolution took the form of psychological cure.
The introduction to my talk will sketch the historical evolution of this diverse movement up to the mid-1960s, after which I will focus on a now almost forgotten event that arguably presents the height of radical psychiatry’s influence during the Cold war. In July 1967, four psychiatrists around Laing brought an international and illustrious group of speakers and thousands of participants to London’s Round House venue for two weeks of lectures, readings, art performances and socializing. The speakers at this “Congress on the Dialectics of Liberation” represented most of the social movements that recently had risen to prominence or would soon after, from the Beats and the New Left to Black Power, from feminism to the ecological movement.
In looking at this unique event, I will inquire into the appeal and limitations of radical psychiatry as an alliance politics and its legacy in the decades that followed.