CCHU9063 Humanities
Cultures of Madness

[This course is under the thematic cluster of ‘Sustaining Cities, Cultures, and the Earth’.]

Course Description

What is it like to be mad? How have various cultures depicted this state? How do doctors, government and the society respond to individuals who “lose their mind”? This course examines how ‘madness’, the most remote yet intimate experience of human beings, is understood in various cultures and across time. By looking at madness, we are also investigating the intellectual foundations of social norms and ways of reasoning in different historical and social circumstances. Using the perspective of science, technology and society (STS), this course explores how mental disorders, insane behaviours and those who are considered social deviants are described, treated and managed historically and contemporarily in different cultural contexts. Students will not only compare multiple factors that determine our understanding of madness but also learn how concepts and managements of mental illnesses and their socio-cultural implications contest each other in a globalized society. Through discussion, readings, and videos, themes explored in the course include the cultures of asylums, the birth of “psy” sciences, the legacy of psychoanalysis, colonial psychiatry, war and mental health, the pathalogization of gender minorities, drugs and deviances, and debates on suicide, creativity, and anti-psychiatry.

[There will be two film watching activities in addition to lectures and tutorials which students will be required to attend.]

Course Learning Outcomes

On completing the course, students will be able to:

    1. Describe various theories and examples on how madmen are understood in different societies.
    2. Compare the multiple factors that determine society’s perception, theorization, classification and management of the socially deviant individuals and communities.
    3. Apply the construction of ‘psychopaths’ and ‘sociopaths’ and its cultural implications to the context of Hong Kong or students’ own experiences.
    4. Critically examine agenda discussed in class and reflect how they are critical in creating a pluralist and inclusive society.
    5. Demonstrate how the activism of mental patients and marginalized social groups request justice historically and contemporarily. Identify areas that can be improved in Hong Kong and beyond.

Offer Semester and Day of Teaching

First semester (Wed)

Study Load

Activities Number of hours
Lectures 24
Tutorials 6
Reading / Self-study 42
Film viewing 6
Assessment: Reflective journal 12
Assessment: Presentation (incl preparation) 48
Total: 138

Assessment: 100% coursework

Assessment Tasks Weighting
Weekly study questions 20
Reflective journal 50
Tutorial participation, discussion, presentations 30

Required Reading

  • Porter, R. (2004). Madmen: a social history of madhouses, mad-doctors & lunatics. Stroud: Tempus.

Recommended Reading

  • Foucault, M. (2001). Madness and civilization. London: Routledge Classics.
  • Scull, A. (2016). Madness in Civilization: A cultural history of insanity, from the Bible to Freud, from the madhouse to modern medicine. Princeton University Press.
  • Mitchell, S., et. al. (1995). Freud and beyond: A history of modern psychoanalytic thought. New York: Basic Books
  • Baum, E. (2018). The invention of madness: state, society, and the insane in modern China. University of Chicago Press.
  • Young, A. (1994). The harmony of illusions: Inventing post-traumatic stress disorder. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Recommended Website

Course Co-ordinator and Teacher(s)

Course Co-ordinator Contact
Dr H.Y.J. Wu
LKS Faculty of Medicine
Tel: 3917 9073
Teacher(s) Contact
Dr H.Y.J. Wu
LKS Faculty of Medicine
Tel: 3917 9073