Franco Basaglia and Mental Health Reform in Italy, 1960–2009


  • Prof John Foot

    University of Bristol

Project summary

In the 1960s and 1970s a movement for radical mental healthcare reform developed in Italy led by the psychiatrist Franco Basaglia. Large asylums were compared to concentration camps and Basaglia gathered support for a law passed in 1978 that shut down existing asylums and prevented others from being constructed. Although it was state law, the act’s impact was very different between regions and cities. 

I will write a history of this movement and examine its legacy. I will map out the effects of the movement by looking at individual asylums. I am interested in memory – of patients, doctors and volunteers – linked to the physical sites themselves. I will use interviews, documents and detailed local studies to tell the story, examining case, theories, international links and debates, as well as the political context. I will also look into developments in mental health reform since the 1970s, the representation of the Basaglia movement in film, literature and art, and the fate of the ex-mental health asylums (as ruins, as memory, as sites of forgetting).