R. D. Laing and the British anti-psychiatry movement: A socio-historical analysis

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In this paper I present a socio-historical analysis of the rise of the British anti-psychiatry movement. I have three aims. Firstly, to establish what anti-psychiatry was. Secondly, to investigate and explain its emergence. Thirdly, to consider its relationship to other 'new social movements'. This analysis is important because criticism and opposition, such as that of the anti-psychiatrists, has been an integral element of the psychiatric field since its earliest developments but has seldom been studied by social scientists, particularly in relation to the post-war period. Power and dominant discourses have been the key focus of analysis, to the detriment of a proper consideration of resistance and counter-discourses. This omission is problematic and should be corrected as social movements introduce plurality, dynamism and the potential for change into the psychiatric field, thus contributing quite centrally to its constitution. Anti-psychiatry is, of course, only one of many movements which require analysis in this connection but it was an important movement and we must begin somewhere. In addition, an analysis of anti-psychiatry serves as an important case study for the sociology of social movements, and particularly for the concern with 'new social movements' (NSMs). An analysis of it necessarily makes a contribution to our understanding of NSMs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)877-889
Number of pages12
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 1998


  • Anti-psychiatry movement
  • Laing
  • Social movements


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