Speaking of madness: a comparative analysis of discourses on pathologized deviance in contemporary and classical India




Hyne-Sutherland, Amy Louise

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Discourse on madness is ubiquitous in world cultures. The behaviors, beliefs, and experiences that come to be labeled as madness vary according to context, and the language used to identify and describe these behaviors, beliefs, and experiences also varies significantly. Though there is great diversity of interpretation, it is nevertheless the case that madness—however contextually defined—is a universal human category within discourses on behavior and experience. Employing the method of discourse comparison, this dissertation works toward developing a model of the discourse on madness in India by developing a meta-linguistic vocabulary for describing positions within the discourse. Two collections of sources are compared: selections from classical Sanskrit literature and a body of interviews, pamphlets, and conference recordings from 2012-2013 India. The analytical focus is on how attributions of madness are made—through which words and levels of discourse, and due to what kinds of affiliations or motivations, political, social, religious or otherwise. Each of the six chapters, with the exception of Chapter 1 on constructions of “health” and “normalcy,” addresses a different “sphere of concern” that arises when people are confronted with behavior they interpret as madness: defining madness (Chapter 2), creating madness (Chapter 3), legislating madness (Chapter 4), curing madness (Chapter 5), and aspiring to madness (Chapter 6). In analyzing the materials in these chapters from a comparative perspective, I identify “sub-discourses”—increasingly specific discourses on madness within the “spheres of concern”—and also “spectrums of interpretation”—spectrums of positions found within the discourse on madness. In organizing the discourse into these categories, we can compare positions on madness at various levels of specificity within and across cultures. Ultimately, the goal is to better understand, and more systematically compare, how people from different times and places have imagined, described, and managed madness—operationally defined here as pathologized deviant behavior—in both similar and unique ways.




LCSH Subject Headings