The current fight to de-institutionalize madness has brought forward the issues of medical-psychiatric knowledge’s legitimacy and of the limits of its power over madness. The paper reconstructs some of the movements of nascent psychiatry in Rio Grande do Sul through examination of an issue that was fiercely debated by alienists at the Hospício São Pedro de Porto Alegre, that is, the question of institutional commitment of ‘mad’ individuals. By focusing on this scenario during 1884-94, it becomes possible to understand how from early on the protagonists organized some of their tactical movements and sought to establish power relationships by conquering the institutional space where the insane were to be kept. As territories where medical knowledge was fighting for recognition and power, these movements were characterized by criticism, discord, and fickleness. They were part of the process by which psychiatry was constructed in Rio Grande do Sul and are prerequisite to understanding its modernity.
psychiatry; mental institution; madness; Rio Grande do Sul