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Decolonizing the Psyche: The Politics of Ethnopsychology, 1930-1980

English title Decolonizing the Psyche: The Politics of Ethnopsychology, 1930-1980
Applicant Suter Michael
Number 194610
Funding scheme Eccellenza
Research institution Département d'Histoire Internationale Institut de hautes études internationales et du développement IHEID
Institution of higher education Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies - IHEID
Main discipline General history (without pre-and early history)
Start/End 01.09.2021 - 31.08.2026
Approved amount 1'512'442.00
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Keywords (15)

European History; Global Politics; History; Gender; History of Psychology; Decolonization; Postcolonial Studies; History of Science; African History; Anthropology of Knowledge; Colonialism; History of Psychoanalysis; History of Psychiatry; Migration; History of Anthropology

Lay Summary (German)

Lead
Das Projekt untersucht die Geschichte der Ethnopsychologie, eines wissenschaftlichen Felds im Grenzgebiet von Anthropologie und Psychologie, während der langen Phase der Dekolonisierung.
Lay summary

Das Projekt ist bemüht um ein neues Verständnis des welthistorischen Prozesses der Dekolonisierung, besonders seiner kulturellen und gesellschaftlichen Aspekte. Dazu wird die Geschichte politischer Debatten über die Universalität oder die Partikularität der menschlichen Psyche nachgezeichnet. Ab den 1930er Jahren entstand mit der Ethnopsychologie ein neues wissenschaftliches Feld im Grenzgebiet der Fächer Anthropologie und Psychologie. Im Rahmen dieses wissenschaftlichen Felds wurde die menschliche Psyche debattiert: war die Psyche der Menschen universell gleich oder kulturell verschieden? Diese Frage erhielt angesichts des Endes der Kolonialreiche eine enorme politische Aufladung: Anthropologinnen, koloniale Psychiater, anti-imperiale Aktivisten und internationale Organisationen fanden jeweils höchst unterschiedliche Antworten darauf. Mit einem wissenschaftsgeschichtlichen Ansatz untersucht das Projekt, wie psychologische Expertinnen und Experten sich die Psyche nichtwestlicher Menschen vorstellten und welche politischen Programme an diese Vorstellungen gebunden waren. Zu diesem Zweck wird der Dialog zwischen Anthropologie und Psychologie in drei Unterdisziplinen rekonstruiert: Psychoanalyse, Entwicklungspsychologie und psychiatrische Epidemiologie. Eine Hypothese des Projekts geht dahin, dass die Ethnopsychologie ein Versuch darstellte, das Ende der Kolonialreiche wissenschaftlich zu bewältigen. Damit soll das Projekt nicht zuletzt auch Aufschluss geben auf die Rückwirkungen, die der Prozess der Dekolonisierung auf Europa hatte.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 27.02.2021

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Abstract

This project proposes that the end of the colonial empires in the twentieth century opened up a space for imagining political and psychic futures. Decolonization projected citizenship on a world scale and continues to mark the global north-south relations of the present. Yet the history of decolonization is remarkably under-researched. We know very little about its social and cultural dimensions. The project provides essential insights into the history of decolonization by retracing political debates on the universality and particularity of the human psyche. Was the psyche universally the same? Or was it culturally distinct? These questions gained tremendous urgency at the historical moment in which non-white people entered the world stage as new political subjects. The negotiations on the psyche of the formerly colonized found an institutional framework in ethnopsychology, a scientific field that emerged from the borderlands between psychology and anthropology in the interwar period. This project is the first to historically reconstruct the field of ethnopsychology across sub-disciplines and various approaches. It sets out to show the multifarious politics of ethnopsychology, ranging from colonialists who pathologized political independence movements as “insane” to anticolonial thinkers for whom the psyche constituted an important element of anti-imperial worldmaking. A central hypothesis of the project is that ethnopsychology was a technique for attempting to come to terms with, and even to manage, the end of empire, all the while acting as a factor catalyzing it. A major focus of this project is on European and North American encounters with Africa. It examines three different strands of the “psy disciplines” (Nikolas Rose) - psychoanalysis, developmental psychology, and psychiatric epidemiology - in their respective interaction with anthropology. How did “psy experts” conceptualize the psyche of non-Western peoples? What political visions and practical programs did these conceptualizations entail? In what ways did the human sciences respond to the world-historical shift of decolonization by negotiating notions of universality and particularity with respect to the human psyche? To address these questions, the project falls into three interlocked sub-projects. The first of these unpacks the political implications psychoanalysis in West Africa had for the European New Left. The second sub-project analyzes how developmental psychologists and anthropologists observed African child-rearing practices. The third sub-project examines the role “culture” and migration performed in the nascent psychiatric epidemiology after World War II. The archives of the WHO provide an important resource for the multi-sited investigations of this project that also involve oral history interviews, and which implements methodologies from science studies. By taking the history of ethnopsychology as a testing probe for the exploration of the world historical transformation taking place in the mid-twentieth century, the project illuminates the impact decolonization had on Europe. It opens up a completely new vista on twentieth century Europe in its global contexts.
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