Brunner, José (2003) "Trauma in Court: Medico-Legal Dialectics in the Late Nineteenth-Century German Discourse on Nervous Injuries," Theoretical Inquiries in Law: Vol. 4 : No. 2, Article 8. Available at:


This paper discusses a dialectic whereby the law not only influenced medical thinking in late nineteenth-century Germany, but also underwent medicalization of its own initiative. At the end of the 1880s, social legislation was crucial in initiating the German discourse on traumatic nervous disorders. By employing doctors as medical experts in court, the law also created a new experiential realm for doctors, altering their behavior toward patients and shifting their focus from therapy to investigation. However, in the wake of their experiences in court, doctors developed a dual etiology of traumatic symptoms, which included the law itself as a pathogenic element with the power to aggravate symptoms. Two medical views of law can be distinguished: some doctors claimed that it was the desire to receive the pensions offered under social legislation that induced workers to perpetuate and exaggerate their symptoms; others argued that since pension claims embroiled claimants in intimidating legal proceedings, the pathogenic effect of social legislation stemmed from fear rather than greed.


Law and Society | Legal History, Theory and Process | Psychology and Psychiatry

Date of this Version

January 2008