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A weak mind in a weak body? Categorising intellectually disabled children in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Switzerland


Hofmann, Michèle (2019). A weak mind in a weak body? Categorising intellectually disabled children in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Switzerland. History of Education, 48(4):452-465.

Abstract

This paper focuses on nineteenth-century theories according to which intellectual disabilities find expression in physical impairment. Such theories became widespread in Switzerland due to the growing interest in a condition then called ‘cretinism’ – a specific form of ‘idiocy’ in the course of which mental and physical disintegration went hand in hand. The first institution for ‘cretinic’ children initially achieved considerable fame. However, it eventually failed completely, leading to a loss of interest in ‘cretinism’. Interestingly, the specific body–mind connection that was associated with ‘cretinism’ did not vanish; instead, it became important in the context of another intellectual disability that gained attention after the mid-nineteenth century: ‘idiocy’. Physical aspects became the main criteria for identifying ‘idiotic’ children in order to allocate them to special educational measures. The paper argues that the connection of an ‘abnormal’ mind to an impaired body allowed for the popularisation of knowledge regarding ‘idiotic’ children.

Abstract

This paper focuses on nineteenth-century theories according to which intellectual disabilities find expression in physical impairment. Such theories became widespread in Switzerland due to the growing interest in a condition then called ‘cretinism’ – a specific form of ‘idiocy’ in the course of which mental and physical disintegration went hand in hand. The first institution for ‘cretinic’ children initially achieved considerable fame. However, it eventually failed completely, leading to a loss of interest in ‘cretinism’. Interestingly, the specific body–mind connection that was associated with ‘cretinism’ did not vanish; instead, it became important in the context of another intellectual disability that gained attention after the mid-nineteenth century: ‘idiocy’. Physical aspects became the main criteria for identifying ‘idiotic’ children in order to allocate them to special educational measures. The paper argues that the connection of an ‘abnormal’ mind to an impaired body allowed for the popularisation of knowledge regarding ‘idiotic’ children.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Education
Dewey Decimal Classification:370 Education
Uncontrolled Keywords:History and philosophy of science, education
Language:English
Date:27 February 2019
Deposited On:20 Jan 2020 10:44
Last Modified:20 Jan 2020 10:44
Publisher:Taylor & Francis
ISSN:0046-760X
OA Status:Closed
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1080/0046760x.2019.1576234
Related URLs:https://www.recherche-portal.ch/permalink/f/1h21i27/ebi01_prod000992216 (Library Catalogue)
Project Information:
  • : FunderSNSF
  • : Grant ID100019_159340
  • : Project Title«Wer ist normal?» Pädagogik und Psychopathologie 1890-1940

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