Mandatory Madness: Colonial Psychiatry and British Mandate Palestine, 1920-48

Darwin College Humanities and Social Sciences Group
Chris Wilson, Faculty of History
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Tuesday, February 27, 2018 - 13:10 to 14:00

Contemporary concerns about pathologising and psychiatrising ‘normal’ emotions, clear in discussions of anxiety and depression, are hardly new. From the late nineteenth century onwards, European psychiatrists across the colonial world struggled to distinguish between the ‘normal’ beliefs or behaviours of colonised subjects, and those which were ‘abnormal’ – beyond the bounds of what could be considered typical or expected. In my talk, I want to explore how the normal and the abnormal mind were identified and used in the context of British Mandate Palestine between 1920 and 1948. While this was obviously a question of importance to psychiatrists and colonial medical officers, it also had a special urgency for legal officials. If a defendant committed a crime believing that the devil had possessed them, for instance, were they to be judged insane and therefore acquitted of legal responsibility for their actions, or were they to be deemed to have been acting in a way typical of their race, class, gender, religion – and therefore held to account? The question of separating the normal from the abnormal thus became quite literally a matter of life and death for defendants.

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