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R. D. Laing (1927—1989) psychiatrist and psychoanalyst

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David Cooper


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South African-born psychiatrist and a leading figure of the anti-psychiatry movement. After graduating with a medical degree from the University of Cape Town, Cooper moved to London. He worked in several hospitals here, including the unit for young schizophrenics called Villa 21. In 1965, he and R. D. Laing, along with several other colleagues, founded the Philadelphia Association, which established the experimental, community psychiatry project at Kingsley Hall with a view towards putting into practice the ideas on psychiatry they had developed in their theoretical works. Influenced by Freud, Marx, and Sartre, Cooper, like Laing, held that it was society that made people mad, particularly its key institution the family. By the same token, he also held that madness was not necessarily an illness so much as an existential journey beyond the confining strictures of society-imposed rules. He coined the term anti-psychiatry in 1967 to describe his position. His most important works include The Death of the Family (1971), Grammar of Living (1974), and The Language of Madness (1978). Like Laing’s, Cooper's work was very much in the spirit of its times and his work was widely read by students. It also influenced anti-psychoanalysis theorists like Félix Guattari, although he ultimately rejected anti-psychiatry as a failed experiment. But by the end of the 1970s, both traditional psychiatry and critical theory had set aside Cooper's work as impractical. Consequently his work has now fallen into neglect.

Further Reading:

Z. Kotowicz R.D. Laing and the Paths of Anti-psychiatry (1997).

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