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British Anti-psychiatrists : From Institutional Psychiatry to the Counter-culture 1960-1971 (Hardcover)
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The British anti-psychiatric group, which formed around R.D. Laing, David Cooper, and Aaron Esterson in the 1960s, burned bright but briefly, and has left a long legacy. This book follows their practical, social and theoretical trajectory away from the structured world of institutional psychiatry and into the social chaos of the counter-culture and its radical politics. In the process, the book explores the rapidly changing landscape of British psychiatry in the mid-Twentieth Century and the apparently structureless organisation of the part of the counter-culture that clustered around the anti-psychiatrists, including the informal power structures, based on friendship and coincidence, that it produced.
The book also problematizes this trajectory by examining how the anti-psychiatrists distanced themselves from institutional psychiatry while maintaining strong links with some of the most important people and groups in mainstream psychiatry and psychoanalysis throughout the 1960s. It explores how, for a brief period, the anti-psychiatrists bridged the gap between psychiatry and the counter-culture, and became legitimate voices in both. The book argues that their ability to synthesise these disparate discourses was one of the strengths of the group and one of the reasons for its popularity but also, ultimately, contributed to the group’s collapse.
The book uses original interviews and archival research to reconstruct the practices, social life, and theories of the British anti-psychiatrists, offering original historical expositions of the Villa 21 experimental therapeutic community and the Anti-University of London. Finally it proposes a new reading of anti-psychiatric theory which displaces Laing from his central position and looks at the group’s works as an unfolding conversation between a network of friends and collaborators.