The “psychic disease” of the “common woman/life”: A bourgeois biomedical discourse in defence of capitalism


Demetra Tzanaki




In 2017, the Greek General Secretariat for Gender Equality (GSGE) issued a press release announcing the creation of a project management team to combat prostitution, excluding sex workers. On 27 February 2018, the GSGE issued a second press release, renounced by a press release from Greece’s Transgender Support Association (GTSA), that equated human trafficking with prostitution, thus stigmatizing sex workers, equating them with criminals, and putting their lives in danger. Within this framework, my argument is twofold. First, I highlight how identifying the “common life” with poverty, deviance, laziness, begging, deceit, crime, and psychic illness became the liberal narrative of the bourgeois introducing persecution against the lower classes, both throughout the 19th century and in the interwar years. Second, I refer to how, after World War II, psychic illness turned the “common immoral life” to mean criminal life without will and how this became the dominant narrative of power for state intervention in human desire. This narrative not only remains today, but it has become essential for the survival of capitalism. The GSGE’s decision in 2017, is not an exception. Rather, it is part of the neoliberal narrative of the “common life” through which the bourgeois state can and does pass human will, desire, and self-identification under the knowledge and control of the “expert”, while the individual learns to submit more and more to the needs of a hegemonic bourgeoisie.


Demetra Tzanaki studied political science at the Department of Political Science and Public Administration (PSPA) of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (NKUA). She holds a Μaster’s degree in Balkan history from the University of London and a PhD in modern history from the University of Oxford. Currently, she is a postdoctoral researcher at PSPA (NKUA) where she teaches “Gender, Society and Politics” at the graduate level. Since 2016, she has been the coordinator of the seminar “Gender, Sexuality, Science and Power” in the same department. She is the author of three monographs in Greek and one monograph in English, which mainly focus on the history of psychiatry, forensic medicine, criminology, psychoanalysis as well as the history and theory of gender and sexuality.