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The Discovery of the Asylum: Social Order and Disorder in the New Republic (New Lines in Criminology) Paperback – December 31, 2002

ISBN-13: 978-0202307152 ISBN-10: 0202307158 Edition: Revised

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“[A] useful contribution to a growing body of literature on social deviancy in our early history.”

—Ernest Cassara, American Quarterly

“David Rothman’s Discovery of the Asylum is an important book. . . . [I]ts substance and scholarship indicate once again the priority of history over social science. Rothman’s analysis of the historical foundations of the asylum is far more compelling and cogent than any known attempt to posit a social or psychic basis. . . . Rothman connects the rise of the asylum with the spread and promulgation of the idea that the best way to treat criminals, paupers, orphans, and the aged—as well as the insane—was to put each category in huge buildings whose architecture had been contrived to promote the values of order, hierarchy, and fixity. . . . Rothman’s carful consideration of the impact of restoration sentiments on the buildings of the asylum, and on its routine philosophy and chosen therapy, is excellent. Sociologists interested in some of the actual reasons for the existence of such places should be sure to read The Discovery of the Asylum.”

—David Matza, American Journal of Sociology

“David J. Rothman’s prize-winning book. . . aims directly at our awareness of the origins and development of America’s major institutions of social control. . . . Rothman reminds us that institutionalization of deviants and dependents as a primary solution to crime, poverty, delinquency, and insanity is a relatively recent historical development. . . . It was not until the 1820s that noninstitutional care of dependents and deviants gave way before the rise of the asylum. . . . Rothman’s book. . . has become the first volume to which we must refer students of crime, poverty, and deviancy in antebellum America.”

—Jack M. Holl, The William and Mary Quarterly

“In a book that is simultaneously a work of history and social criticism, David J. Rothman presents an interpretation of American society during the first half of the nineteenth century that is both provocative and disturbing. . . . [T]his book. . . has many shrewd and brilliant insights.”

—Gerald N. Grob, Political Science Quarterly

“Sharply critical of the so-called humanitarian reforms of the nineteenth century, [Rothman]. . . asks why during the Jacksonian era the deviant and dependent classes were taken out of the family and community and placed in newly built asylums: penitentiaries for criminals, hospitals for the insane, almshouses for the poor, orphanages for homeless children, and reformatories for delinquent minors. . . . In documenting the deterioration of therapeutic institutional practices Rothman makes inroads into American social history. . . . [I]n disputing the traditional view of social reform, he will force many historians to rethink their own positions on some important questions.”

—Norman Dain, The Journal of Southern History

“This important work is a history of the rise from non-institutional beginnings of institutional approaches to four kinds of deviance: crime, poverty, insanity, and juvenile delinquency. . . . It is a bold effort to reformulate the history of “Jacksonian” America.”

—James M. Banner, Jr., The Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“[A] genuinely valuable contribution to social history and is recommended reading for anyone interested in any aspect of nineteenth-century America. . . . [H]is story is told well and. . . is extremely revealing of American attitudes—both in the nineteenth and in the twentieth centuries.”

—George H. Daniels, The Journal of American History

About the Author

David J. Rothman is Bernard Schoenberg Professor of Social Medicine, professor of history, and director of the Center for the Study of Science and Medicine at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University.  He is the author of numerous works, including The Willowbrook Wars, The Discovery of the Asylum, and The Pursuit of Perfection: The Promise and Perils of Medical Enhancement.

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Product Details

  • Series: New Lines in Criminology
  • Paperback: 380 pages
  • Publisher: Aldine Transaction; Revised edition (December 31, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0202307158
  • ISBN-13: 978-0202307152
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #309,403 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By S. Pactor VINE VOICE on November 26, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed reading this book, though it did take me a while to read through it. Rothman advances an argument to explain why America turned to instituionalization of different classes of people during the Jacksonian period. His basic thesis is that medical elites feared the growing democratization of American society and therefore advanced the idea that institutionalization could make unproductive citizens productive and simletaneously serve as a model for the rest of the society.
In Rothman's model, the "Discovery of the Asylum" was both a progressive and deeply conservative event. This conflict is never resolved, and was ultimately at the root of the great failure of the rehabilative model of insitutionalization in the post civil war period. Rothman persuaively argues that by the 1880's, the idea that individuals could be rehabilitated by the process of instituionalization had been abandoned in favor of a "custodial" model.
Rothman looks at the examples of poor houses, pentientaries, orphanages and insane asylums to explicate his thesis.
Fans of Foucault's "Discipline and Punishment", Goffman's "Asylums" and Sykes "The Society of Captives" should find this book enthralling.
Highly recommended
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Steiner VINE VOICE on August 16, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
David Rothman's history of the American asylum is among the best historical accounts of all of America's major institutions of confinement. Rothman uses the model of the asylum-as it was conceived and developed by Kirkbride, as a model for confinement in the 19th century in general. By tracing the elaborate histories of asylums, penitentiaries, almshouses, and reformatories, Rothman paints a critical picture of American psychiatry. An indispensable resource for anyone interested institutional genealogy of our major institutions of confinement.
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It is a worthwhile reading if for no other reason that it is full of background and details that help with at least introducing ones self to what asylum and prison reform was like during the progressive movement. My only real argument with the book is the big leaps of claim and the jumbling of facts between asylums and prisons. Not only were these things very intertwined (one moment using an example of a prison, but then quoting facts regarding asylums). I understand that at moments there were times when these institutions were more linked, but i found that this inter-reliance decreased the efficacy of his claims as the book went on.
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