Trajectories of neurasthenia: Negotiating nature and culture in medical practice

The overall aim of the present project is to perform historical analyses of the concept and practice of neurasthenia in Norway, from 1880 up to present day. Neurasthenia, meaning nerve weakness, was a widely used diagnostic label in the Western world during the decades around 1900. A study of the historical concept of neurasthenia in Norway will be useful in the sense that past enactments of neurasthenia constitute important cultural prerequisites for the current knowledge and debate on myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). ME/CFS is a poorly understood condition, and a significant challenge to society. The diagnosis is controversial and contested in medical circles, and the ongoing Norwegian public debate about the aetiology and treatment of the syndrome is characterized by polarization, confusion and strong personal opinions. The present project will therefore be of relevance and use for contemporary society, as it will bring clarity to some of the most debated issues regarding ME/CFS.

The project consists of three sub-studies:1) a historical analysis of practices of neurasthenia in its “golden age”1880-1920 2) a historical analysis of the medical concept of neurasthenia in Norway from 1880 to the present, and 3) a study of how the historical neurasthenia concept is mobilised in the current debate about ME/CFS, nationally and internationally. Of central importance to the current debates is a cultural understanding, common to almost all participants, of a fundamental barrier between the biological and the psychological, between somatic and psychic causality, between nature and culture. Hence, in all three studies, the relationship between nature and culture in the discourse on neurasthenia will be a recurrent theme.

Case records from hospital wards, reports from medical officers and medical journals and textbooks will serve as primary sources, as well as media of different kinds.


Prosjektbeskrivelse med vedlegg

Disse dokumentene er kun synlige for prosjektleder, enhetens leder og forskningsadministrasjon.


  • Ja


  • Nei


Intern fremleggelse - Ja1 fil

Disse dokumentene er kun synlige for prosjektleder, enhetens leder og forskningsadministrasjon.

NSD - Ikke behov

Brukar berre historisk materiale som ikkje er knytt til nolevande personar. (Har drøfta saka med NSD.)

REK - Ikke behov

Brukar berre historisk materiale (sjukejournalar) som er så gammalt at tausheitsplikta er oppheva, og materialet finst for ein stor del allereie offentleg tilgjengeleg ved ulike arkiv, f.eks Riksarkivet.

Statens legemiddelverk - Ikke behov

Studerer berre historisk tekstmateriale.

Prosjektleder / prosjektansvarlig ved UiO

Kristine Lillestøl

Ansvarlig enhet

Avdeling for samfunnsmedisin og global helse

Helsefaglig forskning

  • Ja


  • Ikke besvart


  • Start: februar 2013
  • Slutt: oktober 2017