Winner of the 2018 Derek Price/Rod Webster Prize for the best article in Isis
Greg Eghigian (Pennsylvania State University)
In his riveting and methodically argued article, “A Drifting Concept for an Unruly Menace: A History of Psychopathy in Germany,” Isis 106, no. 2 (2015): 283-309, Eghigian navigates the reader through the emergence of multiple definitions and applications of the category of psychopathy. He traces its genealogy back to 1890s Germany, where physician and asylum administrator Julius Koch used the term “psychopathic inferiority” to refer to a range of allegedly abnormal symptoms that, in his view, denoted a chronic lack of moral principles. The ambiguity and flexibility of this nosological category, as Eghigian shows, was key to its long-lasting success. The diagnosis of psychopathy proved indeed to be adaptable to an array of institutional settings such as courts, prisons, schools, and welfare programs. As it traveled, the definition of psychopathy continued to change, and it came to include within its scope alleged symptoms such as laziness and homosexuality. Increasingly, individuals showing psychopathic tendencies were cast as “psychopaths,” social deviants requiring a variety of forms of confinement or rehabilitative treatments. Throughout the essay, Eghigian uses an impressive number of sources to emphasize the decisive influence of changing social, political, and cultural circumstances in reshaping how and to whom the category of psychopathy was applied. He thus provides a clear and compelling historical account for both this category’s ubiquity and its continuing indeterminacy.
Luciano Boschiero, Anya Zilberstein, Massimo Mazzotti (Chair)
See Eghigian’s profile at Pennsylvania State University.
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