The Disease of the Civilized: African Insanity and Colonial Psychiatry in Ghana, 1902-1957.
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This thesis discusses the understudied and essential contributions of British psychiatrist and anthropologist Margaret Joyce Field to colonial psychiatry in Africa. In the 1930s, colonial psychiatrists believed Africans did not experience mental diseases or insanity before colonial contact. For John Colin Carothers, the most influential colonial psychiatrist, mental diseases only emerged in African communities as their cultures struggled to adapt to the abstract ideas introduced by European colonization. By drawing on the often-overlooked work of Field, and the Ghanaian concept of insanity, this thesis demonstrates how colonial psychiatrists disregarded mental diseases and their traditional therapies in rural Africa by dismissing them as cultural traits and superstition. This thesis shows how Ghanaians conceptualized insanity before British colonization. It uses the works of Field to highlight how Africans conceptualized insanity in Ghana before colonial contact. More importantly, the thesis emphasizes how the understanding of mental diseases or insanity was culturally constructed in a colonial context. It demonstrates how essential knowledge of African cosmology and cultural beliefs like witchcraft and juju are to understanding psychiatry on the continent. Despite Field’s insightful contribution to colonial psychiatry, this thesis indicates how she misinterpreted socio-cultural beliefs like witchcraft and its associated practices as signs of mental diseases in Ghana.
DegreeMaster of Arts (M.A.)
CommitteeDyck, Erika; Handy, Jim; Alhassan , Jacob; Englebert , Robert