Analyzing Nursing as a Dispositif : Healing and Devastation in the Name of Biopower. A Historical, Biopolitical Analysis of Psychiatric Nursing Care under the Nazi Regime, 1933-1945

Thomas Foth, Université D'Ottawa / University Of Ottawa, Université D'Ottawa / University Of Ottawa
2011
Under the Nazi regime in Germany (1933-1945) a calculated killing of chronic "mentally ill" patients took place that was part of a large biopolitical program using well-established, contemporary scientific standards on the understanding of eugenics. Nearly 300,000 patients were assassinated during this period. Nurses executed this program through their everyday practice. However, suspicions have been raised that psychiatric patients were already assassinated before and after the Nazi regime,
more » ... the Nazi regime, suggesting that the motives for these killings must be investigated within psychiatric practice itself. My research aims to highlight the mechanisms and scientific discourses in place that allowed nurses to perceive patients as unworthy of life, and thus able to be killed. Using Foucauldian concepts of "biopower" and "State racism," this discourse analysis is carried out on several levels. First, it analyzes nursing notes in one specific patient record and interprets them in relation to the kinds of scientific discourses that are identified, for example, in nursing journals between 1900 and 1945. Second, it argues that records are not static but rather produce certain effects; they are "performative" because they are active agents. Psychiatry, with its need to make patients completely visible and its desire to maintain its dominance in the psychiatric field, requires the utilization of writing in order to register everything that happens to individuals, everything they do and everything they talk about. Furthermore, writing enables nurses to pass along information from the "bottom-up," and written documents allow all information to be accessible at any time. It is a method of centralizing information and of coordinating different levels within disciplinary systems. By following this approach it is possible to demonstrate that the production of meaning within nurses' notes is not based on the intentionality of the writer but rather depends on discursive patterns constructed by contemporary scientific discourses. Using a form o [...]
doi:10.20381/ruor-4876 fatcat:pnhjnwj2d5brlpliupejltumsm