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The Problem of Mental Deficiency: Eugenics, Democracy and Social Policy in Britain, c 1870-1959
  1. Dermot Rowe
  1. Department of Psychiatry, Oxfordshire Learning Disability NHS Trust

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    Mathew Thomson, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1998, 351pages, US$90.00.

    This book covers an important period in the development of specialist social, health and educational services for people with learning disabilities in Britain. Historically, the term mental deficiency had wide currency but contemporary synonyms include: mental handicap, mental retardation and developmental disorders. By 1870 faulty concepts of genetics were beginning to give support to the eugenics movement. For example, the French psychiatrist, Morel, had described his “theory of degeneration” wherein mental disorders did not differ in kind but only in severity. Accordingly, neuroses, psychoses and mental deficiency were increasingly severe manifestations of the same inherited process through the generations. This theory was compatible with Lamarckian genetic concepts which asserted that characteristics acquired by the individual could be inherited by his or her descendants. Increasingly, the mentally ill and mentally deficient were seen as causes of society's ills rather …

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