The project MenSoc is funded by the Kone Foundation (2014-2017) and Oulu University’s doctoral programme at the Eudaimonia Research Centre for the Human Sciences.

General description of the project:

The sociologist C. Wright Mills pointed to the place where meaningful research should begin: it was the intersection of individual suffering and public policy. Our research project focuses on the history of this intersection in the context of medicine and society. We examine the topic with the methodological and theoretical framework of 20th century social engineering. With ‘social engineering’ we refer to public policies designed by academically trained experts together with policy makers, whose primary goal was to organise and stabilise society as well as shape patterns of citizen behaviour.

We argue that, in the field of mental health care, social engineering was justified by experts representing the ‘psy-sciences’ (psychiatry, psychology, psychotherapy and psychoanalysis) under the promise of helping individuals adjust to the demands of modern society. We approach our topic as a case study which contributes to the on-going international research and stimulates further studies on the interrelationships between science and society.

Our research questions are the following:

1)         How did the policy makers, administrators and the ‘psy-experts’ approach the question of managing mental illness and maladjustment? What were their plans to minimize mental illness and maladjustment?

2)         In terms of social organisation of modern Finland, how was the concept of adjustment to the social environment developed and justified in the psy-sciences and then applied in practices?

3)         How was the interaction between the psy-sciences and social engineering made manifest in mental health care?

By seeking answers to these questions we aim to build an analytic framework for evaluating and explaining Finnish mental health care and the psy-sciences. MenSoc provides an alternative representation of Finland’s modernisation by focusing on the people who failed to adjust to the demands of modern, increasingly complex society, or whose abilities to adjust and succeed were insufficient from the start.

The project members compile and analyse the following source material: patient records of Finnish mental hospitals from early to late 20th century; journal series and professional literature in the fields of the psy-sciences (and, to a lesser extent, social sciences), relevant legal and policy documents as well as comprehensive secondary literature. We also interview Finnish researchers involved in psychiatric, psychological and social scientific research between the 1960s and 1990s.