“There has been making up of people in all times and places, but only in the past two hundred years have the sciences been so central to the human understanding of who we are. We make ourselves in our own scientific image of the kinds of people it is possible to be. But science is not one thing, nor is scientific method.” Ian Hacking, “Kinds of People: Moving Targets” British Academy Lecture
Ian Hacking is a philosopher of science who has written a lot over the past thirty years about the ways in which classification can affect the types of people it is possible for us to be. Using a historical view of psychology, he concludes that changing ways of understanding minds and bodies has made people view themselves, and even behave, in different ways. Science has played its part in categorising the psyche: the internal sense of self and related behaviours. These understandings change through time.
While it is not only in psychology and psychiatry that making up of people might occur, it has been particularly visible here in the last two centuries. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM) currently contains more than 365 mental health diagnoses (expanded from 106 in the first edition). The lines between what is considered a disorder and what is a way of being or a lifestyle are often fluid. It was only in 1973 that homosexuality was removed from the DSM (and some variants remained until 1986).
Looking at historic mental health records can give us an interesting view of what is considered culturally acceptable in a particular time and period, and the ways in which people are defined and understood.
As part of the project the group of young people looked at the idea of classification through medical diagnosis.
These are medical records from the 1880s.
What would we expect doctors to record in a medical record? Would we expect records to be objective? Many people do, but we need to remember that these records are still created by people, and for a variety of reasons.