Cover image for Stepchildren of nature : Krafft-Ebing, psychiatry, and the making of sexual identity
Stepchildren of nature : Krafft-Ebing, psychiatry, and the making of sexual identity
Oosterhuis, Harry.
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Publication Information:
Chicago : University of Chicago Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
x, 321 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.
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HQ71 .O57 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing (1840-1902) played a key role in the construction of the modern concept of sexuality. As the author of the famous Psychopathia sexualis , he named and classified virtually all nonprocreative sexualities, synthesizing knowledge on sadism, masochism, fetishism, homosexuality, and exhibitionism. His influence on the study of sexuality cannot be overstated, but it is often misunderstood. In the wake of Michel Foucault's influential sexual histories, Krafft-Ebing is often maligned as a contributor to the repressed Victorian construction of sexual deviancy.

But in this powerful new cultural history Harry Oosterhuis invites us to reconsider the quality and extent of Krafft-Ebing's influence. Revisiting the case studies on which Krafft-Ebing based his findings, and thus drawing on the voices of his patients and informants, Oosterhuis finds that Krafft-Ebing was not the harsh judge of perversions that we think he was. He argues that Krafft-Ebing had a deep appreciation of the psyche, and that his work reveals an attempt to separate sexual deviancies from ideas of immorality. In the tradition of Freud, then, Krafft-Ebing should stand not as a villain, but as a contributor to more modern notions of sexual identity.

Author Notes

Harry Oosterhuis teaches history at the University of Maastricht. He is the author of Homosexuality and Male Bonding in Pre-Nazi Germany and the coauthor of Gay Men and the Sexual History of the Political Left .

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

The legacy of Viennese psychiatrist Krafft-Ebing (1840-1902) rests largely on his well-known Psychopathia Sexualis, a collection of case studies and an attempt to classify sexual "deviance" systematically. From the early 20th century to the rabid denunciations of Michel Foucault and others in the 1980s, Krafft-Ebing's work has been harshly criticized as everything from morally repugnant to blatantly serving the interests of psychology's medical model proponents. In this first published attempt at an intellectual biography of the controversial figure, Oosterhuis (history, Univ. of Maastricht) examines the emergence of sexual science as Krafft-Ebing was entering psychiatry, his attempts at classifying certain types of sexuality within psychiatry, and an analysis of several case studies, among other topics. This well-researched book goes beyond the misperceptions that have been perpetuated by taking his work out of historical context. Recommended for larger public and all academic libraries.DDavid Valencia, King Cty. Lib. Syst., Federal Way, WA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Richard von Krafft-Ebing is considered by some modern sex researchers to be a quaint moralist whose major work, Psychopathia Sexualis, did little more than demonstrate his fussy, Victorian compulsion for pigeonholing perversion. Others, espousing a less charitable view, label him as a self-deluded crank who proffered pseudoscience as truth, championed bourgeois respectability, and seriously retarded meaningful investigation of human sexuality for generations. When he died in 1902, his case notes on approximately 1,500 patients were packed away in the family attic, and there they remained untouched for 90 years. The fortunate discovery of this long-forgotten archive is the occasion for Oosterhuis's wide-ranging inquiry into Krafft-Ebing's impact on the development of psychiatry and his role in the medico-intellectual milieu of fin de si`ecle Austria. In the process, Michel Foucault and, to a lesser extent, Thomas Szasz, both come under attack, with Oosterhuis maintaining that their notions of professional control over the discourse of psychiatry bear little relevance to the world that framed Psychopathia Sexualis. This is an important work of intellectual history; insightful, provocative, and lucid throughout--no mean achievement in the linguistic thicket of sex research. Upper-division undergraduates and above. B. R. Burg; Arizona State University

Table of Contents

Part I Medical Science and the Modernization of Sexuality
1 The Emergence of Sexual Science
2 Forensic Medicine and Psychiatry
3 Classifying and Explaining Perversion
4 The Psychology of Sexual Desire
Part II Extending the Boundaries of Psychiatry
5 Professional Struggles
6 Psychiatry's Panacea: Degeneration Theory
7 Professional Controversies
8 Alternatives: Psychological Therapies
Part III Articulate Sufferers: Perversion and Autobiography
9 Sexual Disorder in the Asylum and in Court
10 Plato Was Not a Filthy Swine
11 Superior Degenerates
12 Orgies of Fantasy
13 The Comfort of Togetherness
14 For Science and Humanity
Part IV Psychiatry and Sexual Identity in Fin de Siecle Culture
15 Autobiography and Sexual Identity
16 Romantic Love, Intimacy, and the Sexual Self
17 The Birth of the Modern Homosexual
18 Pressure-Cooker Vienna
Part V Krafft-Ebing's Legacy