Academic journal article Health Sociology Review

From Aphasia to Dyslexia, a Fragment of a Genealogy: An Analysis of the Formation of a 'Medical Diagnosis'

Academic journal article Health Sociology Review

From Aphasia to Dyslexia, a Fragment of a Genealogy: An Analysis of the Formation of a 'Medical Diagnosis'

Article excerpt


The diagnosis of 'Dyslexia' and the medical problematisation of reading difficulties were almost unknown 100 years ago, yet today the British Dyslexia Association estimates that up to 10% of the UK population may have some form of dyslexia. There is now, of course a sophisticated profession with many tools of examination and careful practices to assess dyslexia, thus making it easier to find and diagnosis individuals. The emergence of this sophisticated machinery of diagnosis in fact underlines the importance of describing and analyzing the socio-genesis of the diagnostic category. The first diagnosis of dyslexia-like symptoms as a congenital impairment was recorded by Morgan (1896). In 1859 it is suggested that 10% of adult males in Scotland were literate and around 3% in England (Clifford, 1984, p. 483), an increase in the estimated numbers of diagnosis, must therefore be related to the drive towards mass literacy across the twentieth century. This article is focused upon the first murmurings around the formation of the diagnosis and is drawn from a wider project concerned with mapping the genealogy of dyslexia, it therefore should be read as a fragment of a larger work.

The primary objective of this article is to examine the social relations that allowed the diagnostic category of dyslexia to form, through mapping the formation of congenital word-blindness, a category typically considered to be the forerunner of dyslexia (Anderson & Meier-Hedde, 2001). To answer this problem I will consider how the diagnosis of acquired word-blindness was crafted, paying particular attention to why a difficulty with reading, in its acquired form, became a medical concern during the late nineteenth century. It will be argued that this diagnostic category provided many of the technological conditions that allowed for congenital word-blindness to become a viable diagnosis. I shall describe below how acquired word- blindness was used as a point of departure for the crafting of congenital word-blindness, stressing the importance of localisation of accredited deficiency in a particular intellectual attribute contra what could be understood to be a more generalised deficiency.

It shall be suggested that the existence of acquired word-blindness as a legitimate medical diagnosis had established the inability to read or difficulty with reading in children as a medical concern, albeit with a different aetiology. This constituted the practical conditions and established a vocabulary that made congenital wordblindness a technically feasible diagnosis. The medical concern with reading difficulties was in most cases a concern with how it could be overcome. The clinical criteria that were negotiated for congenital word-blindness seem to have been negotiated in relation to rationalities of government concerned with capitalising the population.

This focus on a variety of rationalities of government concerned with cultivating a newly capitalised population is derived from Foucault's work of the mid-seventies. Building on his work, and many others who have attempted to add to or elaborate this thesis, I have attempted to analysis the formation of congenital wordblindness as the constitution of a 'technology of power', ultimately concerned with further capitalising the population, through acting upon specific and individual bodies. Literacy will now be positioned as a key attribute that was fostered in the body of the population, to further increase its value. This discussion will seek to justify the positioning and analysis of congenital word-blindness as a technology of power within the current article.


The nineteenth century was characterized for Foucault by a dramatic shift in the way that power was exercised, a new strategy of government emerged where power was exercised in a radically different fashion, he characterized this as 'bio-power' (Foucault, 1979, pp. …

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