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Weak nerves, degeneration and racial hygiene: Health ideology in the age of nervousness

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Chapter Summary

In the writings on neuroses, nervousness and 'weakness of the nerves' published between the 1880s and World War I, it was customary to refer not only to nervous individuals but also to the nervousness of the whole epoch', our nervous age'. The chapter examines the more sinister aspects of public health policy and medical ideology, which were manifested in the racial hygiene movement and sterilisation legislation. The medical and political discussion of sterilisation legislation had begun after World War I, and the eugenic and non-eugenic policy of sterilisation was carried out between the years 1935-1975. A substantial historical study of Swedish sterilisation laws shows that the use of sterilisation was frequent in hospitals and institutions for the mentally disabled in the 1940s, and that "Swedish sterilisation policy in the 1930s and 1940s developed into a harsh system of control and coercion with little respect for individual rights".

Keywords: age of nervousness; health ideology; racial hygiene; Swedish sterilisation policy



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