Personality and Dangerousness: Genealogies of Antisocial Personality Disorder

Personality and Dangerousness: Genealogies of Antisocial Personality Disorder

Personality and Dangerousness: Genealogies of Antisocial Personality Disorder

Personality and Dangerousness: Genealogies of Antisocial Personality Disorder

Synopsis

Tracing the history of the category of antisocial personality disorder, this study reveals its emergence is linked to particular kinds of governing, rather than simply to advances in the human sciences or a means of social control. David McCallum examines key legal and institutional developments in Australia, the U.K, and the U.S. as well as parallel developments within psychiatry and psychological medicine. Applying a social theoretical analysis to this material, he challenges our assumptions about the formation and control concepts of dangerousness and personality.

Excerpt

For many, you are the fear that quickens their steps as they walk alone, or that causes a parent to look anxiously at a clock when a child is late. I suspect that you will never fully comprehend why this should be so, as, for reasons which we do not understand, you are not one of us.

(Mr Justice Vincent, Supreme Court of Victoria, cited in The Sunday Age, 28 August 1994, on the sentencing of a man found guilty on three charges of murder in 1993 in Melbourne.)

The prisoner is not known, perhaps even to himself, except in his dangerousness. The newspaper provides a brief report on the psychological and psychiatric evidence that the prisoner has an antisocial personality disorder, and that the precise cause of the disorder is '… unknown, beyond a complex, unpredictable cocktail of personal characteristics, early childhood experiences and possible instances of minor brain damage'.

It has now become commonplace to link the psycho-medical concept of antisocial personality disorder with calculations of dangerousness and explanations for the violation of social norms. The language and conceptual terrain of personality disorder has entered into the routines of calculating and administering 'problem' groups in social work, the magistrates' courts, the mental health system, as well as in cases of horrific crime. Justice Vincent may well have reflected a level of community outrage at the crimes for which the individual appearing before him had been found guilty; he may also have reflected a general impression that somehow this person might exist 'outside of society'. But his remarks also point to a number of ways in which this individual is 'not known' within the conventional categories of persons which present in the penal system.

This 'failure to know' the individual is not simply one of the judge's making. In the last few decades, much attention has been given in psychiatric, psychological and legal studies literature to a multitude of problems at the interface between law and psychiatry: the difficulty of predicting dangerousness, the problem of evaluating levels of individual . . .

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