New Perspectives in Transcultural Psychiatry (Centre Marc Bloch Berlin 3-6 November 2021)

This hybrid international conference was organized within the framework of two ERC Starting Grants (‘Decolonizing Madness’, PI Ana Antic, University of Copenhagen, and ‘Governing Madness’, PI Romain Tiquet, CNRS, Marseille). It aimed to explore a variety of new theoretical and methodological approaches, topics, and voices in the global development of transcultural psychiatry in the second half of the twentieth century. The conference included presentations from scholars in history, anthropology, psychology, psychotherapy, and clinical sciences, who reflects on the development of networks, encounters and practices of knowledge production and sharing in transcultural psychiatry, and on the complex interrelationships between psychiatry and decolonization in a global context.

During the conference we ask six fascinating scholars, who took part in the conference, to share with us their thought on transcultural psychiatry and related fields.

Dr Sofie Baarnhielm, Karolinska/Transcultural Centre, Stockholm

Dr Baher Ibrahim, University of Glasgow/University of Sheffield

Prof Michael Pettit, University of York

Dr Ursula Read, University of Warwick

Dr Lily Kpobi, University of Ghana, and Dr Erminia Colucci, Middlesex University London

Here the program of the conference and a report of the intensive talks and presentations during these 3 days conference.


Report and Abstracts

New perspectives in transcultural psychiatry

Centre Marc Bloch, Berlin, 3-5 November 2021


Day One (November 3rd)

Panel One- Searching for a Culturally Tailored Psychiatry

Chair: Burcu Alkan

Paul Marquis, ‘Institutional Psychotherapy’ in Colonial Algeria, Cultural ‘Revolution’ or Political Utopia? Therapeutic reforms in the Psychiatric Hospital of Blida-Joinville during the Algerian War of Independence (1954-1962).

At the end of 1953, the doctor Frantz Fanon started a new position at the psychiatric hospital of Blida-Joinville [HPB] in colonial Algeria, working with both Algerian male and European female patients. The psychiatrist began to implement therapeutic reforms inspired by “Institutional Psychotherapy”, implemented for several years in Metropolitan France.

It aimed to make the psychiatric hospital a site for comprehensive treatment for mentally illness, by transforming the daily activities and living conditions of the patients. After the first experiments, Fanon and his team realized the need to adapt their practices to the Algerian context, to shift from a position of cultural supremacy to one cultural relativism.

By using this local culture to produce therapeutic transformations, they clearly questioned the assimilative ideology applied in colonial Algeria. Yet in the context of the War of Independence, it became more and more difficult to carry out the reforms: if the practices survived the departure of doctor Fanon in 1957, the promoters of the project were soon forced to recognize the impossibilities of working for the rapprochement of the Algerian and European communities.

Kutlughan Soyubol, Finding Ruh in the Forebrain: Mazhar Osman and the Emerging Turkish Psychiatric Discourse

In this presentation we observe the looks at the process of secularization of psychiatric discourse in the writings of Mazhar Osman during the early Turkish republic. This paper examines the emergence of modern psychiatric discourse on mental health under the culturally Islamic yet radically secular context of the early Turkish republic (1920s-1950s). To do so, it focuses on the psychiatric publications of Mazhar Osman [Uzman] (1884-1951), the widely acknowledged “father” of modern Turkish psychiatry and aims to genealogically trace Osman’s scientific project of reconceptualizing issues such as psyche or soul, sanity, and insanity during the early Turkish republic. The paper consequently traces Mazhar Osman’s efforts to redefine the ruh, an Arabo-Turkish concept referring to both the metaphysical soul and the medicalized psyche, which Osman claimed to be hitherto defined simply within the realm of metaphysics, and thus left in the hands of religious healing. Turkish still have some terms like Sickness of the soul.

Irène Favier, Unlike father, unlike son. A crossed-biographical perspective on two founding figures of Peruvian psychiatry       

This paper presents two actors of Peruvian psychiatry. Honorio Delgado, historian of Peruvian psychiatry and Javier Mariategui. Honorio Delgado introduces psychoanalysis in Latin America at the beginning of the 20th century. He eventually departed from it, conceivably for scientific and extra-scientific reasons. Meanwhile Javier Mariategui founded social psychiatry while kept claiming his professional devotion to Delgado. Javier evokes the idea of “Mental hygiene” of the psychiatric as counselor and he keeps advocating for that legacy, exceeding psychiatric boundaries, he was trying to translate the political practices of his father into psychiatric practices. Delgado advocate in scientific and medical training, becoming director in an academic field, becoming the 1° director of Caetano Herrera, in a very political context. Whereas the former kept looking for what was « essentially Peruvian » and working towards the regionalization of social psychiatry in the 1950s, the latter embraced a very much Eurocentric view and tropism — regularly traveling to Germany and Austria.

Alternative geographies of transcultural psychiatry

Chair: Ana Antic

Shilpi Rajpal, Decolonizing Psychiatry; the Global Mental Health Movement in India, 1920-1980s

This paper examines the variated processes of professionalization, modernization and Indianization along with the obstacles that colonialism created in their paths. Globalization as a process had taken shape by the early twentieth century. Shilpi Rajpal’s paper conceptualizes this global health movement in India to understand multiples variants of the transcultural movement in psychiatry providing us a thick historical account of the care reforms in psychiatry and the rise of global mental health in India 1920-1980. This paper demonstrates that by the mid twentieth century certain individuals were performing important roles in transforming the nature of psychiatry in India. Wider exposure to international trends was an important feature of twentieth century psychiatry in India since enthusiastic practitioners not only travelled widely but also experimented with new methods of treatment, such as in the case of psychoanalysis and the mental hygiene movement.

Nathanaelle SolerThe ‘Mythical Mind’ and the City: Missionary Ethnology, Urban Development and the Birth of Ethnopsychiatry in New Caledonia in the 1960s

This paper describes the birth of a New Caledonian ethnopsychiatry, in the context of the socioeconomic and institutional changes that the city of Nouméa experienced in the 1960s. It aims to shed light on the continuity between the epistemic regime of this current of ethnopsychiatry and the one which characterized missionary ethnology in New Caledonia at the end of the 19th century. In the 1960s, the end of the ‘Indigénat’ regime and the economic boom led to a massive rural exodus of Kanak populations to the city. In this paper the author first describes how this context favored the emergence of a ‘colonial laboratory’ for ethnopsychiatry. Two recurring themes are of particular interest: the first is that of the “mythical mentality” assigned to the Kanaks, an idea taken from the missionary ethnologist Maurice Leenhardt; the second is that of their presumed fundamental inability to living in Noumea city – a theme in continuity with the idea of a harmful influence of Western civilization and its “vices”, an idea which was infusing the writings of the first missionaries.

Andres Rios-Molina, ‘Folk Psychiatry’ in Peru. Three Psychiatrists Seeing Native Peruvians Insanity during the first half of 20th century

This paper explores the work of psychiatrist Hermilio Valdizan, the father of modern psychiatry in Peru, and how he re-conceptualized Native Peruvian insanity and affect in the first half of the 20th century. Peru was the only country in Latin America where some psychiatrists were interested in understanding the mental illnesses of ancient and contemporary indigenous people during the first half of 20th Century. This knowledge was known as “Folk PsychiatrY”. This paper analyzes the work of three main doctors who wrote about this topic: Hermilio Valdizán (1895-1929), Carlos Gutiérrez Noriega (1906-1950) and Federico Sal y Rosas (1900-1974). Their work was related to the need of understanding the madness of indigenous inmates of Víctor Larco Herrera Hospital, the most important psychiatric institution in Peru. Their clinical work was allied with ethnographic, historical, archaeological, and linguistic research.

Valdizán wrote about the insanity in native people. From his point of view, the natives were sad and degenerated people because the trauma of Spanish conquest. Gutierrez Noriega was interested in defining the personality of the indigenous from a combination between endocrinology and archeology; he was also interested in the psychic impact of coca consumption. Sal y Rosas was a Quechua speaker that did several studies on epilepsy and at the end of his life published an extensive work about “susto” (scare), a local psychopathology.

Panel One- Alternative structures, treatments and actors

Chair: Anita Von Poser

Raphaël Gallien, Transforming the asylum into a therapeutic village: Decolonizing the daily life of the asylum (Madagascar, 1959-1972)

From the 1950s onwards, the time of independence took hold in most of the French colonial territories. Psychiatry, which had been an important support in the subjugation of colonized bodies, had to face this change by renewing the dichotomies that had been its foundation until then. In Madagascar, French physicians had to officially make way for Malagasy physicians; the lunatics asylum could not be maintained on the basis of a racial partition; many theoretical thoughts on the inferiority of the indigenous mind were gradually called into question. The support of this reformism is embodied in a reorganization of the asylum, which becomes a psychiatric hospital organized around therapeutic villages directly inspired by early experiences in West Africa (Fann-Dakar, Aro village hospital, etc).

Nancy Rose Hunt, A Wide, Uneven Trauma Zone: Talk, Experiments, Therapies, and Enmities in Congo’s Kivus and Rwanda

How has trauma talk burst forth unevenly in the Great Lakes region from the time of Rwanda’s genocide in 1994 until today? The genocide’s effects spilled widely, with refugee movements, new war zones, humanitarian gestures, and in mental health research, publications, trauma therapies, and across diverse experiments, networks, and claims. The paper combines ethnographic observations from Bukavu since 2018 with a critical literature and film review across a wide, uneven expanse: from Congo’s South and North Kivu provinces with the cities of Bukavu and Goma as well as Rwanda. It aims to etch in forms of unevenness in this “trauma zone” featuring rape, memorialization, silence, speech, inscription, age and generation, memory and heritage work, exposure therapies, and forms of exclusion. Who has been silenced and who urged to speak or seek treatment? How did the diagnostic category of PTSD overtake and suppress other forms of suffering or even practices of freedom? The paper suggests historical lines to madness and mental health care in the region through the counterpoint of Rwanda and Bukavu. Rwanda as a regime is still scripting genocide and trauma for Tutsi and bringing in new mental health services for many.

Anjana Bala, The Psychic Life of the Corporeal

Based on 18 months of fieldwork in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, this paper explores the complex relationship between the body, dance, and imagination. We observe the narrative of experiences of women who have been disabled by a variety of power structures, who experience madness in and through the body in the aftermath of rape and other kinds of sexual violence. Through dance and other bodily experiences, imagination can take on physical, kinesthetic, and muscular qualities that allow subjects of madness to reimagine and reinhabit their bodies. Certain bodily gestures and affects are not acted upon by the psychiatric gaze, often reduced to “irrelevant behavior,” and this “unsilencing” paves the way for creative transformation. This paper, which draws from performance, embodiment, and psychoanalytic theory, explores the way in which individuals in constrained spaces, in which there is truly no “way out,” can reinhabit their own bodies, their own fundamental homes in ways that might make life more imaginative.

Day two (November 4th)

Panel Three- Re-imagining the subjects of transcultural psychiatry

Chair: Romain Tiquet

Lamia Moghnieh, Involutional Melancholia, Psychiatry and Society in late 1930s Lebanon: Rereading Gender, Modernity and illness in the case of May Ziade

In May 1936, fifty-year-old Nahda feminist poet, critic and translator May Ziade was involuntarily admitted to the Lebanon Hospital for Mental and Nervous Disorders (popularly known as Asfourieh) at the request of her relative, Dr. Joseph Ziade. She would remain there for approximately 10 months, after which she was transferred to other hospitals for treatment, until her full discharge in 1938. May’s institutionalization led her to launch a long-winded legal battle to re-establish her mental competence and regain access to her properties and assets. It also led to a raging public debate at the time over women, madness and mental illness, the echo of which still vividly resonates in literary and intellectual circles, among archivists, scholars and feminists today. This talk provides an overview of May’s case, and the public debates that ensued in late 1930s and today. It engages the expertise of modern psychiatry in late 1930s with the questions of Nahda, women, madness and the limits of modernity itself.

Marianna Scarfone, What was colonial about metropolitan psychiatry? The ‘syndrome nord-africain’ in the clinical files (1930-1970)

Beginning in the 1930s, French psychiatry was concerned about the immigration of the inhabitants of the colonies, protectorates and outre-mer departments toward the motherland. The costs of immigrants, notably in terms of healthcare, were denounced. In the postwar period, the desire to ‘medically regulate immigration’ became more explicit, and a ‘cry of alarm’ regarding the ‘costs of social benefits to immigrants and their families’ was being revived (Charpentier 1946), while their increasing number in psychiatric wards was pointed out (Cenac Thaly 1954).Facing ‘other’ ways of experiencing and expressing suffering, diagnosis like ‘hypocondrie nerveuse chez un transplanté’ began to appear in the medical files – covering the semantic, epistemic and existential levels implied in the ‘syndrome nord-africain’ formula that Fanon decried in his 1952 essay (Fanon 1952).Through the analysis of patient clinical records in three French psychiatric institutions (located in Paris, Marseille, Strasbourg), this contribution seeks to map out the epistemological, diagnostic, and therapeutic paradigms and practices of French psychiatry when in contact with the phenomenon of migration. Conceptualization of specific signs and syndromes were looked at through clinical files notes and patients’ recorded narratives. Reading against the grain this kind of sources enable us to see how psychiatrists filled in their own linguistic, cultural, and social gaps (which were at the same time the ones of discipline they embodied) resorting to recurring diagnostic formulae.

Chris Sandal-Wilson, Palestinian patients and psychiatrists across the end of the British mandate, 1948

This paper focuses on the radically different – yet connected – history of psychiatric provision for Palestinians following the end of the British mandate as a case study of radical rupture which does not easily, if at all, fit the model of decolonization or a transition to postcolonial psychiatry.  Rather than a consolidation, the period of colonial psychiatry under the British was succeeded by a splintering, in this respect as in so many others, as the principal framework within which Palestinian doctors, nurses, and patients had operated over the past three decades was shattered. Drawing on archival material, hospital records, and contemporary newspapers, this paper traces both the shattering impact of events around 1948, and the divergent trajectories taken by psychiatry in subsequent years. Focusing on the former allows us to extend the chronology of rupture, by revealing that the process of the separation of Arab and Jewish patient populations both predated and continued after the establishment of the State of Israel. Tracing the latter is a more diffuse exercise, one which highlights the importance of regional circulations of people and knowledge: Palestinian patients in mental institutions in Israel, Lebanon, and elsewhere; Palestinian doctors and nurses both training and working in institutions across the region. This paper resists the temptation to try to weave these elements together into a coherent, single history; instead, it offers divergence as central to histories of psychiatry at and after the end of formal British colonialism in Palestine.

Panel Two- Knowledge circulations and connexions

Chair: Katie Kilroy-Marac

Margherita Angelini, Dignity for All: Italian Mental Health Reform across borders

During the 1960s in Italy, a group of democratic psychiatrists, tied to Franco Basaglia (1924-1980) and his wife Franca Ongaro (1928-2005), reformed the mental care system. This Italian team was inspired by interdisciplinary work and by authors such as Michel Foucault and Frantz Fanon, by international practices of experimental therapeutic communities as the ones in the UK, in Senegal and in Nigeria. In the traditional asylum, Basaglia and Ongaro argued, psychiatry was a practice of violence that rooted its legitimacy in a totalitarian understanding of the relationship between the State and society. The discovery of new approaches allowed Basaglia and his equip to argue for a refusal of the traditional means of the asylum and to propose the “Basaglia law”, which passed in 1978 and sanctioned the closure of the entire Italian asylum system. This paper investigates how this model was negotiated, analyzing Ongaro’s and Basaglia’s equip national engagement during the 1980s. This brought to a broader movement which involved intellectuals, health care workers, and users of the services because health care had started to be considered as a “social right”. This paper analyzes the circulations of ideas during the 1980s, when the Italian experiment gradually gained international recognition and Basaglia’s equip opened to international meetings and conferences.

Cecilia Dracchio, Remotely pharmaceutical? Rethinking Global Mental Health and the pharmaceuticalisation of the self from rural Ghana

Social science analyses of the role of psychopharmaceuticals in the contemporary world have multiplied in the last decades but are still largely focused on North American and European contexts. This is due to their actual or perceived scarcity in the Global South, where they nonetheless play a crucial role in Global Mental Health discourses and policies. Taking the ‘presence-absence’ of psychotropic drugs in the Global South as point of departure, in this contribution this paper would like to challenge this scholarship trend and propose to think through the notion of ‘pharmaceuticalisation of the self’ (Jenkins 2010) in a non-Western perspective, in line with the works produced in the last decade by anthropologists such as Byron Good, Stefan Ecks and João Biehl. Psychotropic drugs play a key role in the way pentecostal/charismatic healing practices articulate with psychiatry. Swinging between their undeniable materiality and their elusive presence, psychotropic drugs in rural Ghana create relationships, inform imaginaries, and shape therapeutic paths in ambivalent and often precarious ways. They force us to reconsider and question – on a truly global level – the meanings of Global Mental Health and the ‘pharmaceuticalisation of the self’ in the present.

Emmanuel Delille, The Interuniversity Research Group in Medical Anthropology and Ethnopsychiatry (GIRAME, 1982): Mental health, bilingualism and multicultural politics In Canada

Following a series of historical works analyzing the first research group in transcultural psychiatry, founded by Eric Wittkower (1899-1983) at McGill university in 1955, this presentation examines the genesis of medical anthropology in Quebec in the early eighties, as it arose notably from the journal Santé, Culture, Health (1983-1994). Published by GIRAME in Montreal, this journal was led by French-speaking anthropologist Guy Dubreuil and English-speaking epidemiologist Brian Murphy. The study questions how anthropologists apprehended the topic of mental health in the collection without separating it from issues of bilingualism, interdisciplinarity and the politics of multiculturalism promoted by the Canadian government throughout the seventies and eighties, and which marked a break with the discourse of the “two founding peoples.” Points of comparison were drawn from the work Marc-Adélard Tremblay and Alexander H. Leighton in Quebec and in Nova Scotia

 Michael Suter, The politics of ethnopsychology in the long moment of decolonization: psychoanalysis between West Africa and the European New Left

In the presentation we observe a small group of Swiss psychoanalysts, Goldy Parin-Matthèy, Paul Parin and Fritz Morgenthaler, who belonged to the antifascist generation of the European left. As the Cold War set in, they started to travel to West Africa, held psychoanalytic conversations and published several books on their experiments with psychoanalysis. Their contributions were enthusiastically taken up by the Alternative Left after 1968 who were looking for new ways to remake self and society. Of particular interest were the trio’s ideas on African ego formation because they set out to show that different ways of having an ego were possible. The presentation tentatively situated the trio’s in the context of wider psychoanalytic projects in West Africa.

Panel Three- Institutions, (professional) networks and practices of global psychiatry

Chair: Gabriel Abarca-Brown

Jennifer Lambe, Mind Wars: Psychiatry and its Critics across the Florida Straits

Lambe’s paper looks at the intersection between US security and immigration policies for Cubans and mental health in Florida. Mind Wars: Psychiatry and its Critics across the Florida Straits.” The presentation discusses the psychiatric implications of the 1980 Mariel Boatlift in a transnational context. It considers both the experiences of mentally ill refugees among the new arrivals and the boatlift’s relationship to transcultural psychiatry and psychiatric dehospitalization in the United States.

Claire Edington, ‘Bandung as Method’ and the possibilities for a decolonial history of psychiatry

In setting out to disentangle the genealogies of transcultural psychiatry and global mental health, recent scholarship has insisted on the importance of projects of postwar reconstruction and histories of decolonization to the global development of psychiatric knowledge. Fanon’s formulation of a “Bandung-Accra” axis for Third Worldism should be taken as an invitation to take more seriously the project of connecting histories of psychiatry across the Global South, ones that are not necessarily routed through Geneva, or even institutionalized in the form of Dakar’s Fann clinic or Nigeria’s Aro village. Instead, what might happen if we identify conceptual and interpretative frameworks that help us to address “local understandings of suffering and local cultural repertoires to overcome them” (Micale and Pols 2021) on their own terms, rather than as variations on a universal theme? What if we attend to how these experiences of suffering are rendered legible and legitimate both inside and outside the clinic? What if we pursued global connections not in the (frustrated) universal deployment of psychiatric categories, or their capture in large-scale epidemiological studies, but in terms of shared experiences of trauma, dislocation and survival? This paper draws on research from colonial Vietnam to sketch out a decolonial framework for writing the colonial and postcolonial history of psychiatry, and the ethical imperatives and practical challenges associated with this kind of project.

David Robertson, Reliability as Enculturation: Instruments and Practices of Collective Observation in Postwar Psychiatric Epidemiology

Beginning in the late 1950s the World Health Organization sought to standardize the diagnosis and classification of mental disorders to undertake international epidemiological investigations. Comparison of existent hospital statistics, however, soon made apparent the problem of the reliability of psychiatric diagnoses. How was it possible to know that two identical diagnoses made in different places described patients with comparable disorders? This paper examines the organization’s efforts to overcome the reliability problem in the 1960s and 1970s. Researchers relied on videotaped patient interviews and the design of standardized clinical schedules to align the observation and naming of psychiatric symptoms and diagnoses between psychiatrists. Examining the use of these instruments, this paper proposes that overcoming the reliability problem required enculturating psychiatrists into shared practices of interviewing, seeing, and diagnosing patients. Paradoxically, reliability was enabled not by the cold, numerical rationality of interview schedules and statistics, but rather, by creating shared diagnostic habits and outlooks through interpersonal collaboration. Videotaped patients and standardized interview schedules thus became material for collective observation, discussion, and enculturation into shared diagnostic habits.

Sofie Baarnhielm, Cultural Formulation Interview in DSM-V

This study is an evaluation of clinicians’ and patients’ experiences of the core Cultural Formulation Interview (CFI) in DSM-5. The CFI provides a framework for gathering culturally relevant information, but its final form has not been sufficiently evaluated. Aims were to assess the Clinical Utility (CU), Feasibility (F) and Acceptability (A) of the CFI for clinicians and patients, and to explore clinicians’ experiences of using the CFI in a multicultural clinical setting in Sweden. From clinician focus-group interviews, the following themes were identified: approaching the patient and the problem in a new manner; co-creating rapport and understanding; and affecting clinical reasoning and assessment. Patients and clinicians found the CFI in DSM-5 to be a feasible, acceptable, and clinically useful assessment tool. The focus group interviews suggested that using the CFI at initial contact can help make psychiatric assessment patient-centered by facilitating patients’ illness narratives. We argue for further refinements of the CFI.

Round table on sources, methodology and ethics (Katie Kilroy-Marac, Lamia Moghnieh, Amira Yahiaoui, Pradipto Roy; moderated by Romain Tiquet)

In this roundtable, ethical issues related to research are raised by participants. Topics related to consent, identity protection and the production of academic content are raised.

Some comments on consent have been raised:

In ethnography work, we need to establish and re-establish consent.

How to get carte blanche to access patient files in some countries.

“Is this my story to tell?”. Question to consider. And how much should I tell?

The issue of access to people, their stories, and their files while they are alive.

Interpreting a difficult life, who do you ask for permission? The medical staff or the patient?

Access to archives is political. “Who has the right to play with archives?” Especially under authoritarian regime.

The ethics of knowledge production and the patient narrative.

Power relations between medical staff and patient, the idea of “managing a patient”.

The ethics of knowledge production and telling patients’ stories.

Comments on Identity Protection:

Empathy and emotion with the patient. Even if you trace his/her history from the archive

Question about full anonymization or pseudonimization

What happens when you have a famous patient? (Like the case of May Ziade, presented by Lamia Moghieh).

You must ask their family, their descendants. And if you have family resistance, it’s also part of the story.

Do not harm, do not hurt people, in what we publish not to harm. Nevertheless, we cannot claim to know what “harm” means.

Questions about research and academic production:

For whom do we produce knowledge?

Access to clinical records. Comment on the facility and informality of access to clinical records of the psychiatric patient in research (Romain Tiquet).

What motivates you to do this research?

What is our social role and how can I make the work I do relevant?

The relevance of your research and asking yourself: Are people concerned with universalizing this information?

The relationship between the researcher and the individuals he/she looks at.

Build a meaningful relationship with the person, the subject of the research.

Doing work that not only does no harm, but benefits the person, asking “what can I bring?”

Day 3 (November 5th)

Panel one- The politics of transcultural psychiatry

Chair: Christopher Chamberlin

Marco Ramos, Ghosts in the Archive: Psychoanalysis and Terror in Cold War Argentina

This paper describes the ghosts in and outside of the archives of Cold War psychoanalysis in Argentina. His experience with ghosts builds on the research of the Equipo de Asistencia Psicológica, an activist team of Argentine psychoanalysts who studied the violence of disappearance in the 1970s. During that period, a violent military regime “disappeared” thousands of citizens through murder, torture, and secret imprisonment to stem the tide of Communism. In this essentially ambiguous state, the Equipo claimed desaparecidos were not simply dead and gone. Instead, they occupied a space between life and death, a liminal position “between existence and non-existence”. This is precisely what Judith Butler identifies as a ghost, as a being “neither alive nor dead, but interminably spectral.”

“My father was disappeared by a military coup in Perú and secretly imprisoned, only narrowly escaping in the 1960s. He rarely discussed this trauma. Last year, he took me into his closet to show me a shoebox filled with the material traces of his activist past. It is a secret archive of newspaper clippings and speech drafts that has preserved a life of political engagement that was repressed both politically and psychologically. My project engages with archives like my father’s – domestic archives created by Argentine psychoanalysts in basements, bedrooms, and closets as they struggled for survival amid the terror of the Cold War.”

While military dictatorships archived for the sake of counterinsurgency in Latin America, the Cold War also turned activists into archons of their everyday lives, as they hid letters, meeting minutes, and therapy notes from state surveillance. Following Indigenous scholars Eve Tuck and Angie Morell, these domestic archives continue to haunt us today, as a form of resistance and refusal, a commitment to literally mattering as the spectral remainder of disappearance.

Michael Pettit‘Angela’s Psych Squad’: Black Psychology against the American Carceral State in the 1970s

This paper examines the duality of the Black psychology movement in the United States as both a distinctly American and a postcolonial approach to mental health. The Westside Community Mental Health Center in San Francisco served as the organizational hub for the Association for Black Psychologists (ABPsi) in the 1970s. The Westside clinicians understood forensic psychology as a kind of preventative care as California, more so than any other state, was seduced by the eugenic dream of human improvement through therapeutic interventions in schools and prisons intended to correct the wayward deviant. Their community’s mental wellbeing required dismantling the interlinked disciplinary apparatus which disproportionately surveyed, tracked, and confined young Black men. These psychologists mounted a legal challenge to the use of intelligence testing to sort Black children in schools, seeking to replace standardized tests with “dynamic assessments” inspired by Israeli psychologist Reuven Feuerstein’s work with refugee children. They consulted on the voir dire process in the highly politicized Angela Davis trial to minimize the presence of racially prejudiced jurors. They offered expert testimony on the psychological damage of solitary confinement on behalf of prison activists. Bay Area encounters with Third World internationalism, the Black Panther Party, the Nation of Islam, and community-led substance abuse programs shaped clinical care at Westside and inspired the Afrocentric consciousness many came to espouse. ABPsi initially had a significant impact on the historically white American Psychological Association’s training practices.

Panel Two- Migration and refugees

Chair: Lamia Moghnieh

Baher Ibrahim, Uprooting, Trauma, and Confinement: Psychiatry in Refugee Camps

This research examines the development of mental health services in medical humanitarian and refugee relief efforts, and the articulation of psychiatric theory in refugee contexts. This paper focuses on the contribution of refugees and exiles – as patients and practitioners – to the genesis of the field of transcultural psychiatry. Changing transcultural psychiatric perceptions of refugees from the 1950s to the 1980s provide a case study of the broader shift from the ‘universalist’ notions of mental disorder common in the 1950s to the relativist ‘new cross-cultural psychiatry’ which Arthur Kleinman called for in 1977.The author focuses on two case studies in the Global South, the case of Rwandan refugees in newly independent Uganda in the 1960s, and of Cambodian refugees encamped on the border with Thailand in the 1980s.

These two refugee crises prompted vastly different responses from mental health professionals. The problems of Rwandans in Uganda were seen as symptomatic of larger problems of social change accompanying decolonization, urbanization, and modernization in Africa. Psychiatrists who studied the mental health of Rwandan refugees saw it in strikingly similar terms to those in which European psychiatrists had viewed the problems of refugees in the aftermath of WW2. Their work was limited in scope and did not involve humanitarian organizations, who did not see mental health as a priority in the Global South throughout the 1960s/70s. This stands in marked contrast to the humanitarian mental health efforts mobilized for Cambodian refugees in the 1980s. By then, a more culturally relativist view of refugee mental health was taking shape, which saw Western psychiatric categories as irrelevant and unhelpful for Cambodians. Initiatives such as a Red Cross ‘Traditional Medicine Centre’ were launched.

Mostafa Hosseini and Elisabeth Punzi, Afghan unaccompanied refugee minors and the need to problematize and challenge Western perspectives on ‘mental illness’: Results from a Swedish interview study

The refugee “crisis” in Europe has been debated in relation to for example, human rights, justice, economics, crime, integration, and “mental illness” and trauma among refugees. Sweden has been an important destination for many unaccompanied refugee minors (UM). In polarized debates, UM’s abilities to become integrated in the Swedish society have been questioned, often with racist assumptions. Others have raised concern about UM’s vulnerabilities, “mental illnesses”, and needs of mental health treatment. The emphasis on “mental illness” and interventions is connected to research studies that focus on PTSD, anxiety, depression, and other psychiatric diagnoses among UM. This may seem benevolent but those diagnoses, and methods for assessing them, represent Western perspectives that medicalize and individualize human experience. They hold a colonial heritage, positioning those deemed deviant as dysfunctional, leading to exclusion or to well-intentioned interventions that may cause misery or belittlement.

Emphasizing “mental illnesses” and treatment needs are inconsistent with how UM perceive themselves, their abilities, and difficulties, and how those can be counteracted. I this paper we would like to share findings from interviews with young Afghan men and women, who came to Sweden as UM. Our results show that they value concrete support, interpersonal contexts, and social activities. They describe periods of sadness and hopelessness but those were not perceived as expressions of “mental illness”. No-one expressed any wish for mental health treatment. They saw their difficulties as a result of loneliness, alienation, insecurity, and longing for family and familiar places and believed that difficulties were best counteracted by social contexts, love, guidelines to understand Swedish traditions and values, and by being recognized as citizens who can contribute to their new country.


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