Between Clinical and Useful Knowledge

in Colonial Madness

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print May 2007 | ISBN: 9780226429724
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226429779 | DOI:
Between Clinical and Useful Knowledge

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Beginning from a case history published in 1939, this chapter traces the development of colonial psychiatric ideas as a practical form of knowledge. The psychiatrists of the Algiers School of French psychiatry in Algeria offered scientific support to settlers' prejudices and changed the terms of discussion about indigenous mentalities. Antoine Porot and his students insisted that the North African natives' “primitivism” was overdetermined. This “primitivism” manifested itself in a capacity for violent criminal impulses such as sexual violence. In France, mental health practitioners and criminologists cited works by the Algiers School to support their demand for an end to immigration, which in their view threatened to overwhelm France with criminal lunatics from North Africa. Psychiatric ideas also played a significant role in the interpretation of the origins and course of the Algerian war for independence by contributing to programs for psychological warfare. The historical development of the Algiers School presents an example of colonialism's discordant logic in practice, where a nuanced and even progressive scientific circle with utopian ambitions was simultaneously an uncomprehending, violent entity driven by militant racism.

Keywords: France; Algiers School; psychiatry; Algeria; primitivism; racism; colonialism; sexual violence; Muslims; psychological warfare

Chapter.  16375 words. 

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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