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Concepts of distraction developed in nineteenth century research associate it with transformed urban landscapes in nineteenth century modern cultures. But from the 1930s to 50s Britain, it becomes associated with disorders of domestic spatiality, and a disregard of those design principles of order and hygiene, purpose and function, which were understood to define ‘problem families’. Researchers drew on psychological models of character to propose that these environments produced affective disorders – or defects of sentiment formation – through which adolescent working girls, whose distinctive susceptibilities were formed from the wartime disruptions to familiar landscapes, became predisposed to the lures of distraction. As a disjunctive perceptual disorder associated with transformations in urban spatiality, then, ‘distractibility’ became a symptom of a disruption of the cognitive function associated with that lack of purposiveness, the inability to cultivate ‘homely sentiments’, and the failure of order and demeanour which characterised the environment provided by the problem family. Affective disorders generative of modern forms of female adolescent distraction are seen to bring about a disturbance of perceptual modes that result in psychosis, as the breakdown of consciousness and meaning. As the girls’ immersion in the sensory realm situates them in terms of a ‘dispersal’ across urban landscapes, their attachment to contingent and capricious stimuli is understood to result in a degenerative progression towards the emotional immobility characteristic of the schizophrenic. Within the coordinates of psychological models of distractibility, they become located nowhere.
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