Bad Souls: Madness and Responsibility in Modern Greece

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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.

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About the Author:

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


"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

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)

“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)

“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)

“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)

“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 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)

"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 and Illness)

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