Inside and outside the professions: Lobotomy in the professional and lay spheres in Scandinavia during the introduction and growth of the procedure

Kenneth ÖGREN
Department of Culture and Media, and Department of Psychiatry, University of Umeå, Sweden


The history of lobotomy can be observed by looking at the professional as well as the lay representations. What is the professional story on lobotomy in the medical journal, the psychiatric congress and the annual report of the state mental hospital and what is this story when it comes to representations in the daily newspaper, the yellow press and the popular press? These questions are approached in my paper.

The first lobotomy procedures in Sweden, 1944, were performed on a limited scale by neurosurgeons in Stockholm in collaboration with psychiatrists. The studies performed were thoroughly researched indicating a skeptical view especially regarding the effectiveness of the operation on patients with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. These pioneers of the lobotomy procedure in Sweden obviously issued a warning to enter a practice including this group indiscriminately.

When lobotomy was introduced in the State Mental Hospitals in Sweden, 1946-1948, the overweighing group of patients to be operated on was the schizophrenic group. What factors contributed to such a practice which seems to be opposing the very early warnings of the pioneers ?

When the lobotomy procedure is presented in the Swedish public sphere, in the daily newspapers and the popular press, the operation is mainly mirrored in bright colors and the new surgical approach to mental illness is described as a new and hopeful opportunity to the thousands of hospitalized patients. and there relatives.

This paper also deals with the professional discourse of lobotomy represented in a series of Scandinavian psychiatric congresses during the years of 1946-1952 reflecting a psychosurgery debate which mainly was hidden to, or not reflected in the public sphere.


Session XI -- Scientific Methods and Metaphors
Wednesday, 5 June 2002, 5:15 pm

Seventh Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)

Los Angeles, California, USA