Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, History, Yale University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2016
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Interdepartmental Program in Anthropology & History, University of Michigan
On ‘Foreign Lunatics:’ Diversity, Labor Migration, and Psychiatry in West Africa, 1930-Present

My dissertation examines the place of psychiatric care in processes of social stratification and in the production of national, regional, and ethnic diversity. Taking the history of the care at the Accra Psychiatric Hospital (formerly the Accra Asylum) in Ghana from the 1930s to the present as a point of departure, I ask: 1. How have psychiatric practices evolved and adapted to changes in societal diversity? 2. How have psychiatric practices produced diversity by articulating person-related differences through confinement and the deployment of diagnostic and other technologies? 3. How have actors – historically and in the present – deployed psychiatric institutions to manage changing socio-cultural conditions? Understanding how the mechanisms of psychiatric care in Ghana have produced, reflected and reproduced historical categories of difference and their concurrent social stratification effects requires examining the historical diversity of labor migrants from Burkina Faso and Cote d'Ivoire. People from these French colonies constituted over 46% of the patients in the Accra Asylum but made up less than 6% of the total population in the colonial Ghana. Even into the 1970s many of the patients at the Accra Psychiatric Hospital were francophone immigrants. By suturing together the history of West African labor migration with an examination of the processes of psychiatric care, two stories that might at first glance seem unrelated; I examine the tension between 1. the composition of a normative way of being in the world; and 2. the forms of subjectivity that get sorted out as lunatic, maniacal, odd, insane, etc. The fact that migrants in disproportionate numbers ended up in insane asylums was not only a matter of convenience for the colonial or post-colonial state, as has been suggested in earlier histories of psychiatry in Africa. Rather, I hope to explore the multiple tiers of interest that went into producing the migrant as psychologically unsound.