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The International R.D. Laing Institute

Society for Laingian Studies

An Introduction to the works of R.D. Laing
by Philip Dore

'The requirement of the present, the failure of the past, is the same: to provide a thoroughly self-conscious and self-critical human account of man.'

The Politics of Experience

hese pages are intended as a forum for the ideas of Ronald David Laing, one of the most controversial figures of 20th Century psychology and philosophy. His writings - a beguiling mix of psychoanalysis, mysticism, existentialism and left-wing politics - make for powerful and often disturbing reading; disturbing because they so clearly demonstrate the extent to which the average human being is entrapped by the pressures of social conformity.

His first book, The Divided Self, was an attempt to explain schizophrenia by using existentialist philosophy to vividly portray the inner world of a schizophrenic, which Laing presented as an attempt to live in an unlivable situation. His later books, such as Self and Others and The Politics of Experience, expand upon this to show how contemporary culture conspires to rob us of our individuality.

Laing remains a highly enigmatic figure. His work tends to be dismissed by most psychiatrists; however, droves of mentally ill people insist that this was a man who truly understood how they felt. Laing always insisted that psychotherapists should act as shamans, exorcising the illness through a process of mutual catharsis. This is particularly apt, since, like the archetypal shaman, Laing did not appear to so much preach a doctrine as live it. His self-destructive tendencies and mood swings are well documented. In 1989 he died of a heart attack at the age of 62, his health ruined by years of depression and alcoholism.

Since Laing refused to view mental illness in biomedical/clinical terms, he has often been labelled as part of the so-called 'antipsychiatry' movement, alongside figures such as David Cooper, Thomas Szasz and Michel Foucault. However, Laing vehemently rejected this label. He never tried to deny that mentally ill people are in need of help - he simply did not believe that conventional psychiatry provided the answer. He was especially opposed to the use of lobotomies, ECT and the dehumanising effects of incarceration in psychiatric hospitals. Perhaps one of the clearest examples of Laing's approach can be seen by an incident related in John Clay's book R.D. Laing: A Divided Self.

While still in Chicago, Laing was invited by some doctors to examine a young girl diagnosed as schizophrenic. The girl was locked into a padded cell in a special hospital, and sat there naked. She usually spent the whole day rocking to and fro. The doctors asked Laing for his opinion. What would he do about her? Unexpectedly, Laing stripped off naked himself and entered her cell. There he sat with her, rocking in time to her rythm. After about twenty minutes she started speaking, something she had not done for several months. The doctors were amazed. 'Did it never occur to you to do that?' Laing commented to them later, with feigned innocence. (pp. 170-171)

About the Bibliography

he links in this Bibliography will take you to original summaries and reviews of the books noted; many of them were written for this site, and we invite visitors to contribute commentaries for publication also, with a view to collectively building a comprehensive reference source.
The bibliography is divided into three sections (as linked above, so below):

Politics & Other Works

Laing's books, including those he co-authored

Essays, Chapters &c.

Journal and research articles, chapters in edited volumes, forwards, commentaries


Interviews published in books, journals, and magazines.

Biography and Critique

Books and articles by various authors about Laing's life and work.


Taped interviews, lectures, documentaries

Most frequently-requested quotes

We are concurrently developing a searchable database that contains reference to other media, (film, video, cassette & LP recordings, etc.) in addition to the standard books, articles, essays and other print publications. The database will not supercede the bibliography pages insofar as these pages will primarily contain citations for which we are hosting a commentary or review, while the database will also contain items for which only a citation is available.

In regard to the matter of links to online book sites, we're happy to say that we have declared this site an Amazon-free zone; however, we have joined the affiliate programs for Barnes & Noble and ABEbooks, a few words about this are included on the Patrons and Sponsors page. Please note that none of the linked titles direct you to book purchasing; they open summaries and commentaries about the book. Links to preset searches of new and used copies are included through the following links:


ABEbooks - out-of-print, used, rare and collectible


Barnes & Noble - new and current books in print

Above all, we hope that the bibliography and database serve as a highly useful resource in your researches, whether for purposes of scholarship, or simply for the joy of it.


Summaries in the 'Politics' section of this bibliography written by
Daniel Burston and Brent Potter
except where noted otherwise.

Love and Thanks to
Theodor Itten
for shepherding the contents of these pages.

Detail, Manuscript 13th c.

Publication details and tables of contents for Laing's books prepared by Margreta Carr
a note of
correction to errors or oversights would be appreciated.

Locations of visitors to this page