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The Man Who Closed the Asylums

Asylums incarcerate the "mad" and exclude them from society. Gorizia, a grim mental asylum, right on the edge of Italy, miles from anywhere, was no exception. Yet, when a new director was appointed in 1961, everything changed. Drawing on the writings of Erving Goffman and Michel Foucault, interested in experimental "therapeutic communities" in the UK, the work of Frantz Fanon, and the ideas linked to radical psychiatrists like Felix Guattari, Franco Basaglia was convinced that the entire asylum system was morally bankrupt. So he decided to abolish it. This is the first comprehensive account of Basaglia's revolutionary approach to psychiatry and mental health. The book is a gripping account of one of the most influential psychiatrists of the twentueth century.
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About the Author

John Foot is Professor of Modern Italian History in the School of Modern Languages, University of Bristol. He has published several books on sports and contemporary Italian history. He writes a blog for the Italian magazine Internazionale and has written for the Guardian, the Independent on Sunday, the Times Literary Supplement, the London Review of Books, and History Today. He was Coeditor of the journal Modern Italy between 2010 and 2014.


"Peopled by a cast of extraordinary characters - patients, colleagues, friends and enemies - revolving around the charismatic and now legendary psychiatrist Franco Basaglia, John Foot's sympathetic account de-mythologises the reform by uncovering little-known precedents, distancing Basaglia from anti-psychiatry and situating his work within Italian radical politics of the late 1960s. Indispensable reading for anyone interested in psychiatric reform."- Howard Caygill, author of On Resistance "The anti-asylum movement in 1960s and '70s Italy forms one of the most fascinating episodes in western psychiatry. John Foot's richly documented and revealing study of this movement and its pioneer figure, the charismatic radical psychiatrist Franco Basaglia, adds immeasurably to our understanding of the troubled history of mental health care in modern times." - Barbara Taylor, author of The Last Asylum "A brilliant historical reconstruction of the work and ideas of one of the world's leading exponents of critical psychiatry." - David Forgacs, author of Italy's Margins "Foot's impassioned story reminds us that the future is neither immutable nor ordained, and that small groups of people in peripheral places can change history." Nature "It is fashionable in some quarters to laugh at the radical left of the 1960s. The Man Who Closed the Asylums feels refreshing in that regard - as a portrait of imperfect people who had the passion and pragmatism to put an end to a brutal and broken system." Financial Times "A scholar steeped in the twists and turns of Italian history of the 20th century...Foot has made wonderful use of [the materials of the Basaglia archive] ...exploring them through the lens of the politics and fractured nature of the country itself." Helen Bynum, Times Higher Education "In Italy, the literature on Basaglia tends towards either idealisation or demonisation - he's considered either a secular saint or a dangerous radical. John Foot gives a much more rounded, and fair, portrait of a complicated, committed man." Tobias Jones, Guardian "However strong the spirit of 1968, it will not eradicate the institutional impulse from human societies." First Things "An excellent book" Frugal Creativity "Brings this diversity, richness and complexity to life in an exemplary fashion, illuminating all its different manifestations and contradictions... A triumph of committed scholarship" Paul Gordon, TLS "An important work by John Foot ... should put to rest the badly-informed, lazy narrative that still prevails to the effect that Franco Basaglia was an idealist - an 'anti-psychiatrist' - who, at a stroke, disempowered doctors to certify someone as insane with disastrous results." Adrian C. Laing, Amazon "John Foot stresses throughout his exemplary account [that] myth and reality aren't easily separated in Basaglia's story... Foot restores a critical distance that makes it possible to present Basaglia's achievements as part of a wider story. In Italy, it took more than one man to close the asylums." - Mike Jay, London Review of Books

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