Madness in Buenos Aires — 2008

Patients, Psychiatrists and the Argentine State, 1880–1983

By Jonathan Ablard

“Ablard … shows something that many scholars have suspected but no one has been able to prove: that despite discourses and intentions, the Argentine state has been historically weak and therefore its ability for exercising social control has been very limited. I hope that Ablard’s book will encourage other scholars to take a fresh look at other dimensions of social control in Argentina.”

Mariano Ben Plotkin, author of Argentina on the Couch: Psychiatry, State, and Society, 1880 to the Present

“In the compelling Madness in Buenos Aires, Jonathan Ablard is interested in ‘madness’ as a window to understand strategic issues about Argentina, such as the structure of the state, social change and the restrictions of modernisation…. (T)he analysis and the narrative on concrete cases (of patients) present mental health troubles embodied in singular lives. This is a great achievement of the book….”

Bulletin of Latin American Research

“This book is thoroughly researched and full of compelling case studies interwoven with convincing analysis.”

American Historical Review

Show all quotes

Madness in Buenos Aires examines the interactions between psychiatrists, patients and their families, and the national state in modern Argentina. This book offers a fresh interpretation of the Argentine state’s relationship to modernity and social change during the twentieth century, while also examining the often contentious place of psychiatry in modern Argentina.

Drawing on a number of previously untapped archival sources, author Jonathan Ablard uses the experience of psychiatric patients as a case study of how the Argentine state developed and functioned over the last century and of how Argentines interacted with it. Ablard argues that the capacity of the state to provide social services and professional opportunities and to control the populace was often constrained to an extent not previously recognized in scholarly literature. These limitations, including a shortage of hospitals, insufficient budgets, and political and economic instability, shaped the experiences of patients, their families, and doctors and also influenced medical and lay ideas about the nature and significance of mental illness. Furthermore, these experiences, and the institutional framework in which they were imbedded, had a profound impact on how Argentine psychiatrists discussed not only mental illness but also a host of related themes including immigration, poverty, and the role of the state in mitigating social problems.

Picture of Jonathan Ablard

Jonathan Ablard is an assistant professor at Ithaca College, where he teaches Latin American history.

Cover of 'Madness in Buenos Aires'

Downloads & Links


In Series