Normality, subjectivity and mental health: A genealogy of Danish psychiatry, 1938–2017

Malene Broch Clemmensen*, Simo Køppe

*Corresponding author

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


The increasing prevalence of mental disorders together with the uncertain validity of psychopathological diagnostics challenges psychiatry as the primary home of studying, diagnosing and treating mental health problems and developing mental healthcare. This marks an emerging paradigmatical shift towards ‘alternative’ mental health perspectives. With the ambition of attending authoritatively in definitory practices, contemporary scholars of psychology, sociology, anthropology and philosophy call for an interdisciplinary approach to mental health, with a predominant focus on the subject. We argue that a paradigmatical shift of mental health requires structural–historical considerations of the foundations upon which subjectivity has been and still is manifested through psychiatry. On this basis, we critically investigate fluctuating psychiatric discourses on subjectivity, normality and pathology. We conducted a genealogical analysis of 13 psychiatric sources (1938–2017) focusing on ‘Psychopathy’ as a fluctuating diagnosis. We elucidate how subject concepts in psychiatry develop in parallel to subject concepts in society and culture, exemplified through convincing similarities between psychopathic symptoms and neoliberal ideals. Considerations like these, offer scholars valuable bases for mental health research and debate, and also valuable insights to healthcare professionals.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)231-249
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Genealogy
  • Mental health and mental diagnostics
  • Neoliberal subject
  • Psychiatry and subjectivity
  • Psychopathy

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