A Cultural History
Distributed for Liverpool University Press
In ancient Athens, “idiots” were those selfish citizens who dishonorably declined to participate in the life of the polis, and whose disavowal of the public interest was seen as poor taste and an indication of judgment. Over time, however, the term idiot has shifted from that philosophically uncomplicated definition to an ever-changing sociological signifier, encompassing a wide range of meanings and beliefs for those concerned with intellectual and cognitive disability. Idiocy: A Cultural History offers for the first time a analysis of the concept, drawing on cultural, sociological, scientific, and popular representations ranging from Wordsworth’s “Idiot Boy” and Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge to Down’s “Ethnic classification of idiots.” It tracks how our changing definition of idiocy intersects with demography, political movements, philosophical traditions, economic concerns, and the growth of the medical profession.