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Madness and Colonization: Psychiatry in the British and French Empires, 1800-1962

From: Journal of Social History
Volume 35, Number 2, Winter 2001
pp. 295-326 | 10.1353/jsh.2001.0126


Cultural, social, and intellectual historians have begun to examine the intersecting histories of European colonialism and psychiatry. At their best, these studies engage with at least four distinct historiographies. First, they revise the history of European medicine by illustrating the importance of the colonies to metropolitan scientific developments. Second, they explore the relationship between knowledge and power in the colonial context that the pre-occupied scholars since the publication of Edward Said's Orientalism in 1978. Third, they explicitly address the psychology of colonialism, a phenomenon at the heart of many intriguing yet speculative works in postcolonial studies. Finally, they open a new methodological window into the history of race by exploring institutional psychiatry's contributions to definitions of race and citizenship under colonialism. This essay reveals the potential implications of such research by highlighting recent studies of British and French colonial psychiatry in Africa and Asia, while also addressing possible future directions for the study of colonial psychiatry.

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