RG 1120/2: Cultures of Madness


The goal of this Research Unit is a contribution to the history of madness as a field of modern urbanity. Madness, as it is approached in this project, includes cultural figurations, topographies and typologies of modern alterity. These open up the possibility for the redefinition of subjectivity and individuation, that was taking place in the years between the founding of the German Reich and the eve of National Socialism, and that marks the beginning of an "urban modernity". Applying the concept of liminal space we seek to analyse the forms of expression, regulation and discursivation of modern madness as an urban apparatus.
Transition or liminal phenomena mark the realms of negotiation of several very different spaces of knowledge and socio-cultural areas of life and experience: biographically, for the affected and their families, they can be experienced and processed as a decompensation, an intrusion into normal life; politically, they are bureaucratised by the aid and social institutions in their intervention and support strategies; institutionally, they are administered by health care facilities and their systems of regulations; and medically, they are conceptualised in terms of psychopathology.
The liminal phenomena of urban madness however are also portrayed in literature, painting and other visual arts and negotiated on the basis of aesthetic criteria. In theatre, film and music they are put on stage and transmitted performatively; they are likewise articulated in bohemian culture and in styles of behaviour, or accounted for as uncanny instances of the extrasensory in the occult, or projected onto the figure of the artist. Based on the models and systems of values and operation in these liminal areas, the analysis includes all the interactions between patients, relatives, committed lay people, participating public, representatives of aid organisations, civil servants, intellectuals, artists, cultural critics and, finally, doctors and scientists. This multi-perspective approach reconstructs the phenomena of modern alterity and allows it to be examined as an urban variation of madness in all its cultural working power.
Methodically, the Research Unit focusses on the historical topography of those liminal phenomena that reveal madness as an urban phenomenon - in all its discursive, epistemological, institutional and medial dimensions. This allows access to the interferences between subject and cultural history, between knowledge and delusion, between visibility and invisibility – consequently disclosing very different models of explanation, interpretation, representation and sense – developing out of the differences between cultural milieus and forming the interpretative space of madness, in the unfurling culture of the metropolis.

Principal Investigators
Binder, Beate Prof. Dr. (Details) (Research Groups)

Duration of Project
Start date: 10/2014
End date: 09/2015

Research Areas
Humanities and Social Sciences

Last updated on 2021-03-08 at 14:59