Bad Souls

Madness and Responsibility in Modern Greece

Bad Souls

Book Pages: 344 Illustrations: 5 photos, 1 map Published: February 2012

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Cultural Studies, Science and Technology Studies

Bad Souls is an ethnographic study of responsibility among psychiatric patients and their caregivers in Thrace, the northeastern borderland of Greece. Elizabeth Anne Davis examines responsibility in this rural region through the lens of national psychiatric reform, a process designed to shift treatment from custodial hospitals to outpatient settings. Challenged to help care for themselves, patients struggled to function in communities that often seemed as much sources of mental pathology as sites of refuge. Davis documents these patients' singular experience of community, and their ambivalent aspirations to health, as they grappled with new forms of autonomy and dependency introduced by psychiatric reform. Planned, funded, and overseen largely by the European Union, this "democratic experiment," one of many reforms adopted by Greece since its accession to the EU in the early 1980s, has led Greek citizens to question the state and its administration of human rights, social welfare, and education. Exploring the therapeutic dynamics of diagnosis, persuasion, healing, and failure in Greek psychiatry, Davis traces the terrains of truth, culture, and freedom that emerge from this questioning of the state at the borders of Europe.


“A brief review cannot begin to do justice to the rich, complex argumentation and moving testimonies of this book. It offers a roller-coaster ride between thick description and agile and historically contextualized theorizing, between fl ashes of hope and the dull echo of irremediable despair and frustration, and between high ideals and messy experience. Bad Souls is one of those rare ethnographic accounts of Greece that can teach us why so politically and economically marginal a country offers such rich insights into the operations of power. . . .” — Michael Herzfeld, Journal of Anthropological Research

“All in all, based on a solid theoretical ground, Davis does outstanding work in combining anthropology with psychiatric theory and philosophy. This is a skillfully written book, which will absorb the reader—some parts, such as the interludes and the postlude, are indeed gems of prose. Most intriguing of all are the patients’ voices, which throughout the book uncover their stories and remind us of the fluid borders between ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’." — Despo Kritsotaki, Social History of Medicine

“This is a complex, persuasive work, broad in its reach, defining the conditions in which former Greek psychiatric inpatients live. Ethics for Davis is a relational practice, hence the work details therapeutic and clinical encounters, intimately portrayed with analyses of the perspectives of patients and staff in determining the parameters of freedom following psychiatric reform in Greece.”  — Amanda Rosso Buckton, Social Anthropology

“Scholars interested in the cross-cultural study of psychiatry, the medical anthropology of Greece, and the anthropology of ethics in everyday contexts will find Bad Souls both ethnographically rich and theoretically rewarding.”  — Eugenia Georges, American Anthropologist

Bad Souls is a nuanced and compelling ethnography of responsibility and psychiatric reform in Thrace, a rural area between the Bulgarian and Turkish borders of northeastern Greece...Because of its analytical clarity, poetic tone, and ethnographic breadth, Bad Souls is an excellent reading for upper-division courses and graduate seminars on medical anthropology, human rights, Europe, migration, humanitarianism, and theories of subjectivity.” — Cristiana Giordano, American Ethnologist

“Bad Souls is a major contribution to contemporary Greek ethnography on a subject matter that has been largely ignored by ethnographers since the initial (unpublished) dissertation of Amy Blue, who conducted research in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It is also a major contribution to the discussions on psychiatry and its interaction with cultural structures of meaning that were started with Vincent Crapanzano and tended to by Stephania Pandolfo, Mariella Pandolfi, and Andrew Lakoff.” — Neni Panourgiá, Ethos

“Patient and physician, nurse and therapist, administration and action snag on the ideals and shortcomings of each other’s missions. In Elizabeth Anne Davis’ haunting ethnography, Bad Souls: Madness and Responsibility in Modern Greece, these snags complicate treatment and treatment seeking while Greece struggles to reform their psychiatric system to meet the needs of a diverse patient population.” — Erica Rockhold, Somatosphere

“Although not concerned with economics and debt, Davis’s ethnography and analysis can be read as one of the most revealing studies of neoliberalism to date. In identifying the underlying political, cultural, and economic asymmetries that dispose patients to become ill, she indicates the current limits to psychiatric practice in Thrace, and the point at which the next reform must begin.”  — Charles Stewart, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

“In Davis, we find an exceptionally graceful awareness of her quandaries and limitations as the critical investigator, as well as an ethnographic sensibility well suited to this complex material. The book deserves as much admiration and attention in the fields of psychiatry, anthropology, medical humanities, and European studies, as it does from scholars interested in ethics, governance, and citizenship.”  — Noelle Mole, H-SAE, H-Net Reviews

“In my opinion, the author, being a keen ethnographer and anthropologist, has succeeded in gathering and presenting factual information that can help readers to make up their opinion about subjects that by far surpass the problems of psychiatric reform in a remote area. . . . The book has the power of fluency and liveliness. It seems as if sometimes the presented persons try to jump out of the pages and speak directly to the reader about their story or view.” — Miltos Livaditis, American Journal of Psychiatry

“This is an educational book in many senses; well researched and spanning a breath of knowledge combined with solid, long-term fieldwork that has produced a wealth of empirical material. . . . This volume should appeal to a specialist audience interested in delving into the history and culture of psychiatric reform and how it plays out in a specific region at the margins of Europe. It should also interest scholars and policymakers working in the field of psychiatry and psychiatric reform. Overall its straightforward and simple language makes for an engaging read and its fascinating subject matter also makes it an ideal teaching tool for courses on health and illness from a variety of disciplinary perspectives.” — Susanne Ådahl, Council for European Studies

"A very well written book, weaving together a lucid ethnographic narrative and a sophisticated theoretical analysis."  — Valter Cvijic, Anthropological Notebooks

"An intense, brilliant, read. Davis deftly wields the technicaltheoretical language of  social theory, philosophy, and psychiatry. Her discussion of diagnosis as a truth game allows her to bring  a wide range of classical and  contemporary theorists and ethnographers into productive, and instructive, if fast-paced, dialogue."  — Laurie Kain Heart, Medical Anthropology Quarterly

"A magnum opus through which shines an impressive ethnographic immersion into the localities Davis studied, her significant interpersonal skills, and her vivid interactions with places and persons."  — Jonathan Gadsby and Eleni Alevanti, Sociology of Health & Illness

"Bad Souls will be of interest to anthropologists, psychiatric professionals, those in the field of disability studies, and students seeking to understand the moral quandary of shifting responsibilities for care of persons with mental illness under neoliberal reform. ...Bad Souls is a remarkable and fascinating portrayal of the question of human rights and mental illness, localized in the multiethnic Thrace region of Greece." — Christina Lizzi, Mediterranean Quarterly

"Bad Souls is a remarkable study of psychiatry in northern Greece. From the intimacy of the therapeutic encounter to the impersonality of state bureaucracy, Elizabeth Anne Davis describes the way neoliberal assumptions have led to the often divergent reformulations of the psychiatric. A brilliant book." — Vincent Crapanzano, author of The Harkis: The Wound That Never Heals

"How to write a history of madness and a genealogy of ethics at the borders of Europe's psyche and within the complex confines of neoliberalism's demand that subjects govern themselves? Poetic in form and writing without ever loosening its grip of argument and analysis, Bad Souls is a searing ethnographic account of how mental health, Greek nationalism, and contemporary truth emerge in the fraught fault line between patients' struggles to maintain their minds and psychiatry’s struggle to maintain its therapeutic and diagnostic hold on the order of truth in the domain of the other." — Elizabeth A. Povinelli, author of Economies of Abandonment: Social Belonging and Endurance in Late Liberalism


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Elizabeth Anne Davis is Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology, in association with Hellenic Studies, at Princeton University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Note on Orthography and Pronunciation vii
Acknowledgments ix
Introduction 1
Prelude: The Spirit of Synchronization 21
Part 1. False Face 51
Interlude. The Jewel of Greece 113
Part 2. Strangers 117
Interlude: The Persians 183
Part 3. A System in Doubt of Freedom 187
Reprise: Diagnosis 239
Postlude: A Peaceful Place 247
Notes 257
Bibliography 301
Index 319
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5106-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5093-4
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