What did they do all day? Patient work, psychiatry and society in England and France 1900-1940

Year of award: 2015


  • Jane Freebody    

    Oxford Brookes University

Project summary

The main aim of my research is to explore the day-to-day culture of work-related activities and therapy in mental hospitals in England and France in 1900-1940. I will investigate the rationale of work therapy and examine its development, refinement and application in six key institutions. I will then analyse how the organisation and perception of work, non-work and unemployment in England and France affected ideas and practices of therapeutic work and pastimes in mental institutions. I will examine the impact of war on the role of work and activities as rehabilitative treatments and highlight the tension between medical rationales and contemporary socio-economic conditions (such as high rates of unemployment) and contemporary medical ideologies (such as eugenics and mental hygiene). I will demonstrate how knowledge, ideas and practices about work and activities as treatment flowed between France and Britain. I will also investigate whether patients and their families experienced work and activities as empowering, entertaining, educational, punitive, coercive or rehabilitative.