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Bedwetting, Doctors and the Problematization of Youth in Britain and America, c.1800-1980

Ian, Miller (2017) Bedwetting, Doctors and the Problematization of Youth in Britain and America, c.1800-1980. Journal of Social History, 52 (2). 0-0. [Journal article]

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This article argues that bedwetting evolved from being seen, in the nineteenth century, as a bad behavioral habit into a deeply problematic twentieth-century condition linked to deeper, psychological problems. Approaches to bedwetting moved away from techniques of habit adjustment and physical interventions towards a deeper assessment of personality and mind. The case study of bedwetting reveals much about how early-twentieth-century medical communities re-defined certain types of bodily behavior but also shaped them around contemporary socio-cultural concerns about matters such as deviance and youth. For medical professionals, wasn’t so much the wet bed itself but the broader implications raised about childhood abnormality; a failure to control night-time impulses to relieve his or her bladder signified a child turning into something monstrous; into an individual whose sadistic actions threatened the safety of those around him. Even when seemingly beyond the control of a sleeping child, bedwetting was now presented as a somewhat animalistic, impulsive practice that crossed the threshold of acceptable modern, civilized behavior. The end result was a way of thinking about the inner body that risked casting the owners of leaky bladders as potential deviants or sexual perverts. To achieve its aims, the article examines two similar, but in some ways contrasting, geographical contexts, Britain and America, to also shed light on how particular socio-cultural contexts shaped ideas about bedwetting.

Item Type:Journal article
Keywords:history of bladders, history of bedwetting, history of American and British youth, history of the body, history of deviance
Faculties and Schools:Faculty of Arts > School of English and History
Faculty of Arts
Research Institutes and Groups:Arts and Humanities Research Institute > History
Arts and Humanities Research Institute
ID Code:37929
Deposited By: Dr Ian Miller
Deposited On:30 May 2017 07:27
Last Modified:22 Jul 2019 14:30

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