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Theses Doctoral

Standpoints on Psychiatric Deinstitutionalization

Rule, Alix

Between 1955 and 1985 the United States reduced the population confined in its public mental hospitals from around 600,000 to less than 110,000. This dissertation provides a novel analysis of the movement that advocated for psychiatric deinstitutionalization. To do so, it reconstructs the unfolding setting of the movement’s activity historically, at a number of levels: namely, (1) the growth of private markets in the care of mental illness and the role of federal welfare policy; (2) the contested role of states as actors in driving the process by which these developments effected changes in the mental health system; and (3) the context of relevant events visible to contemporaries.
Methods of computational text analysis help to reconstruct this social context, and thus to identify the closure of key opportunities for movement action. In so doing, the dissertation introduces an original method for compiling textual corpora, based on a word-embedding model of ledes published by The New York Times from 1945 to the present. The approach enables researchers to achieve distinct, but equally consistent, actor-oriented descriptions of the social world spanning long periods of time, the forms of which are illustrated here.
Substantively, I find that by the early 1970s, the mental health system had disappeared from public view as a part of the field of general medicine — and with it a target around which the existing movement on behalf of the mentally ill might have effectively reorganized itself. Drawing together the case and the method, conceptually, is the idea of a standpoint: a framework within which objects obtain significance.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Bearman, Peter Shawn
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 10, 2018