The Psychic Life of History, Culture, Illness and Violence

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Course Number: 
130 Wheeler
Roberto Benaduce
TTH 11-12:30

The shaping of the body by culture, illness, technology and technique, the vocabularies of distress, the search for healing, are crucial theaters where we can observe a struggle for the exercise of power and bodily sovereignty. Specific knowledge (medical practices, diagnostic categories) give form to this struggle, transforming and in some cases hiding the stakes. Even the so-called “folk medicines”, with their specific ideology of illness, suffering, moral order and cure, are not immune from this dimension of power. In the course of the semester we will explore these questions in different contexts, emphasizing the role of history in crafting subjectivities, representations, and practices.

With an emphasis on the role of traumatic events, social, collective, and intimate violence, as well as on specific politics of memory in the production of the experience of illness and healing, the course explores the violence of diagnosis, especially when the clinical encounter ignores the socio-political context of distress, cultural differences and other configurations of the Self. We will devote a particular attention to hegemonic discourses on the body, health and suffering, as in the case of new psychiatric categories such as “Trance and Possession Disorder”, “Dissociation Disorder” or “PTSD”, defined by some scholars as a new expression of surreptitious colonization.

We will further compare the dialectic and tension around the phenomenological experience of “being-at-risk”, between the “magical world” and “psychopathological thought”, pondering the experience of “cultural” and “psychic apocalypse”. Colonialism, migration, the question of refugees and asylum seeker, as well as citizenship debates, will offer specific areas of discussion, bringing to the forefront of reflection the psychic life of history. This course in Medical Anthropology has its main bearing on Ethnopsychiatry, one of the most debated expressions of the “uneasy alliances” between anthropology, psychoanalysis, and psychiatry.


Upper division status and consent of instructor.


Readings will include a few books (ordered at the campus bookstore) and a reader (Copycentral).