|dc.description.abstract||It is the intention of this essay, then, to lend that complement to historiography of insanity in New Zealand by positing the experience of the judged, rather than that of the judges as central to the interpretation of mental illness. The deconstruction of a mental hospital patient population allows an alternative perception of the asylum to that advanced by the traditional theories of control and progress. From the documents of committal and the case-notes of the incarcerated there emerge the hitherto unexamined issues of psychiatric incarceration in New Zealand: Who were those received into the institution? Which social groups were most at risk of being labelled insane and consequently committed? By whom was that process initiated? What behaviours were deemed transgressions of social norms necessitating incarceration? Were definitions of normality socially specific, or were they independent of sex, age, class and familial condition?
This essay examines these questions in relation to the patients of the Dunedin Mental Hospital at Seacliff from 1928 to 1937. Opened to patients in 1882, by 1928 Seacliff was the third largest of the country's eight public institutions for the care and containment of the mentally ill. Over the decade covered in this study it housed, on average, 1187 patients per year, 230 of whom form the sample upon which my research has been based. The files of 126 male, and 104 female patients certified insane or mentally defective were examined in order to reconstruct the social experience of madness in New Zealand in the 1930s.
The scale of the study was dictated by the constraints of time and manageability. The particular years covered, however, are not irrelevant to the construction of insanity. The period opened with the legislative reassessment of mental illness in New Zealand. The 1928 Amendment to the Mental Defectives Act of 1911 extended the range of behaviour defined as mad, and instituted procedures to facilitate committal. These developments in the Dominion's mental health legislation are examined in Chapter One of this essay, as is the medical profession who were authorised by law to detect and confine insanity.
Furthermore, the decade upon which the study is focused was one of great social change and marked economic depression in New Zealand. The various pressures these forces exerted upon the men and women committed to Seacliff between 1928 and 1937 are considered in Chapters Two and Three. In particular these chapters relate the social constructions of masculinity and femininity to the social construction of madness, in a gendered analysis of culturally specific phenomena. [extract from Introduction]||