The Pedagogy of Negating the Institution

Jakob Jakobsen:

In 1962, a group of people at the Gorizia Mental Hospital in northern Italy began dismantling the fence that surrounded the institution. Footage from a documentary by the Italian film-maker Sergio Zavoli shows what appears to be patients and staff cutting and pulling down sections of the high metal fence – a fence built with the clear purpose to both demarcate a specific area of a building and to keep people from getting over it. Significantly, we see the fence that defined the boundary of the hospital being dismantled from inside the compound, and the faces of those pulling each segment of it to the ground express relief, even joy. In Italian, the voiceover of the film describes the action:
In November 1962, the psychiatric team directed by Dr Franco Basaglia opened up the first ward of the hospital and inaugurated a therapeutic community. Hospital life will be regulated by ward assemblies and by general assemblies. The patients are regaining a human and social role, as they get to take care of themselves and their existence through an ongoing communication with the people treating them. Once the prison-like nature of the institution has been abolished, the nature of its ideology can be studied.
Dr Franco Basaglia had been made director of the Gorizia Mental Hospital the previous year. He initiated the demolition of the containment structure devised to keep the patients inside the hospital which had, according to the new director, operated more like a prison camp than a place intended for treatment and care. The fence was not just there for the sake of the patients; it existed to protect society from the insane and insanity. Now the fence was coming down.