Refuge for the 'mad' or refuge from the 'mad'

Bennett, Sarah (2007) Refuge for the 'mad' or refuge from the 'mad'. In: 8th International Utopian Studies Society Conference; 12 - 14 Jul 2007, Plymouth, U.K.. (Unpublished)


My paper will explore the shift in function of a former Asylum, Devon County Pauper Lunatic Asylum (1845) from asylum (a place of exclusion) to gated enclave (a place of exclusivity). The former asylum, originally designed to contain, regulate and control, has recently been redeveloped as owner-occupier housing and re-packaged as a former stately home for marketing purposes. The asylum represents one 'utopian' vision, that of 'refuge' for the mad, whilst the gated enclave represents a different 'utopian' vision, that of 'refuge' from the defiled city. My paper will propose that the same spatial organisation that befitted the requirements of the 'mad-doctors' in providing spatial and temporal regulation to counteract the psychic 'chaos' of the patients in the nineteenth century, provides the new residents with opportunities for surveillance and regulation. Boundary formation is central to both the asylum and the enclave, and both involve the construction of walls and rules (external power) and self-discipline (internal power). In terms of the nineteenth century asylum, it was thought that power over others in terms of confinement or external power, could be assisted by power over the self i.e. internal power. The asylums and other institutional edifices were designed for the dual purpose of imposing external power through coercion and turning ‘the subjects of the confining regimes into agents of their own reformation’ (Markus 1993:95). My paper will explore if self-coercion is central to the context of the twenty-first century gated community.

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