A bit disturbed…

I found it rather amusing that Hacking wrote about multiple personality and stylistically, his writing reflected that. It seemed to jump around, moving back and forth between ideas, much like multiplicity. I just thought I’d put that out there.

However, after listening to Jill’s lecture today, I was extremely disturbed by the fact that until the 1970’s, child sexual abuse wasn’t really talked about because we didn’t have the language to talk about it.


I’m taking linguistics concurrently this term and it intrigued me to no end how this could have been. We recently went over the idea that language is productive; that is, since our environment is always changing, our language has to adapt to those changes in order for us to be able to continue talking about them. If child sexual abuse existed, then by definition we should have had the capacity to talk about it. It occurred to me that perhaps it wasn’t a matter of not understanding child sexual abuse, but rather the victims of it not being able to talk about it as openly as it can be talked about today (ex. to a therapist etc.)

Furthermore, after we developed the language to talk about child sexual abuse, it also disturbed me that psychologists would correlate multiple personality with the abuse the same way that it was associated with hysteria in 19th century France. It seems so silly to think of things in such a formulaic way. I like to think of this using words as examples: if the plural of mouse is mice, then the plural of house is hice. Clearly that is not the case, and native English speakers will know this isn’t true, but attributing grammar rules to deviations and irregularities will cause what is known as “bad English”. Similarly, attributing a common factor, like child sexual abuse and hysteria, to a case like multiple personality which has many different defining features and has been difficult to diagnose in the past anyway causes detrimental effects to the patients.

It also plagued me to think about how the psychiatrists would actually impose multiple personality onto their patients through their goal of trying to uncover some sort of child sexual abuse that may not actually have been there in the first place, causing their patients to “remember” events┬áthat did not actually happen.

And if all of that wasn’t disturbing enough to me, I have to sleep with the book on my side table with the creepy cover staring back at me. Thanks a lot, Hacking…


  1. The idea of there not really being “child abuse” in earlier centuries IS difficult to get one’s head around. I think of it this way (though I’m not sure I’ve got his point exactly right). How we understand what counts as “cruelty to children” or “child abuse” depends on what those concepts mean at any given time. What counted as something bad done to children under “cruelty to children” had to do with what happens to children in poverty when the suffer malnutrition and/or when they’re made to work too much (perhaps among other similar things). What counts as “child abuse” may include a wider set of things happening to children, and now those are considered bad as well. It may have been (though this is the part I’m not sure I have right) that there were physical and sexual abuses happening too, of the kind we’d now call “child abuse,” but that it wasn’t problematized in the same way, wasn’t treated as a big problem that needed to be addressed through a big social initiative. The problems were tied more to poverty and things that happen in “those families” rather than in “all families.” So it’s not that similar things weren’t happening then as now, but that what counts as a problem that needs to be solved may have been different. At least, that’s how I’m thinking about this at the moment; my views may change as I go back further over my notes in preparation for seminar!

  2. I agree with your comments about the structure of the book mirror the exact topic that Hacking is talking about, and I have to wonder if that was at all deliberate. He just around and covers so many different topics that it’s hard for me to understand what exactly his main goal was. I’m not sure if I remember this correctly but did Jill mention that the book was intended to mirror the looping affect he discusses?

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