Mad Travelers by Ian Hacking
Reflections on the Reality of Transient Mental Illnesses (Page-Barbour Lectures)

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"It all began one morning last July when we noticed a young man of twenty-six crying in his bed in Dr. Pitre's ward. He had just come from a long journey on foot and was exhausted, but that was not the cause of his tears. He wept because he could not prevent himself from departing on a trip when the need took him; he deserted family, work, and daily life to walk as fast as he could, straight ahead, sometimes doing 70 kilometers a day on foot, until in the end he would be arrested for vagrancy and thrown in prison."

--Dr. Philippe Tissie, July 1886

Thus begins the recorded case history of Albert Dadas, a native of France's Bordeaux region and the first diagnosed mad traveler, or fuguer. An occasional employee of a local gas company, Dadas suffered from a strange compulsion that led him to travel obsessively, often without identification, not knowing who he was or why he traveled. He became notorious for his extraordinary expeditions to such far-reaching spots as Algeria, Moscow, and Constantinople. Medical reports of Dadas set off at the time of a small epidemic of compulsive mad voyagers, the epicenter of which was Bordeaux, but which soon spread throughout France to Italy, Germany, and Russia.

Today we are similarly besieged by mental illnesses of the moment, such as chronic fatigue syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The debate rages about which of these conditions are affectations or cultural artifacts and which are "real." In Mad Travelers, Ian Hacking uses the Dadas case to weigh the legitimacy of cultural influences versus physical symptoms in the diagnosis of psychiatric disorders. He argues that psychological symptoms find stable homes at a given place and time, in "ecological niches" where transient illnesses flourish.

Using the records of Dadas's physician, Philippe Tissie, Hacking attempts to make sense of this strange epidemic. While telling his fascinating tale, he raises probing questions about the nature of mental disorders, the cultural repercussions of their diagnosis, and the relevance of this century-old case study for today's overanalyzed society.


About Ian Hacking

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Ian Hacking is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto. He is the author of a number of books, most recently Rewriting the Soul.
Published October 22, 1998 by University of Virginia Press. 239 pages
Genres: Health, Fitness & Dieting, Literature & Fiction, Professional & Technical. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Mad Travelers

Publishers Weekly

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The curious history of a now defunct Victorian-era psychiatric disorder is the jumping-off point for a reflection on the relationship between mental illness and its cultural context by Hacking, a philosopher who has written on the phenomenon of multiple personality disorder (Rewriting the Soul).

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The New York Review of Books

Roland Littlewood Professor of Anthropology and Psychiatry University College Centre for Medical Anthropology University College London London, England Professor Littlewood’s addition to the history of fugueurs recounted by Professor Hacking is very interesting.

Apr 13 2000 | Read Full Review of Mad Travelers: Reflections on...

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