Governing Madness in Africa

Welcome to the research portfolio of the ERC StG project MaDAf “A History of Madness in West Africa: Governing Mental Disorder during Décolonisation (1940s-1970s)” (2021-2025).

MaDAf traces the history of madness in West Africa during the period of decolonization and after independence. The project focuses on three main areas related to the history of Africa, decolonization, and the history of madness.  By examining the decolonization and post-independence periods, the project aims first to emphasize the ruptures but also the continuities in the everyday governing of madness.

MaDAf also proposes a theoretical and methodological framework for the use of archives, so far unexplored (psychiatric hospital patient files) thus building a comparative history of madness from below. The project intends to draw a comparative social history of madness that goes beyond the history of psychiatry and, consequently outlines broader analytical pathways to integrating the results into global trends.

This project is built around three lines of research: firstly, it focuses on the processes of defining and categorizing madness by a variety of actors enabling us to analyse the processes of population control during the (post)colonial era. Secondly, it proposes a multi-sited analysis of madness in West Africa by going beyond strictly psychiatric spaces to look at the places and spaces that manage madness in everyday life. Thirdly, the project examines psychiatric institutions in West Africa, understood as non-penal form confinement.