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The Politics of Madness: Gender, Postcoloniality, and Psychiatry Through Film and Theory

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Location: MIT

Thursdays 1:00-4:00PM

Spring 2020. Exact dates TBA

This course will bring together conceptual tools from postcolonial African literature and theory, clinical psychology, and feminist film studies. We will ask how diagnostic categories become gendered, and how women's psychosexual development might be thought of in cross-and trans-cultural terms. Specifically, by putting into dialogue media representations and scholarly analyses from two culture zones, the US and Africa, we will investigate the clinical issues surrounding trauma, spirit possession, hysteria, and body image disturbances as well as colonialism and its impact on African psychiatric discourse. Key questions we will address include: How does the practice of psychiatry in two different cultures both perpetuate and destabilize patriarchal narratives of the woman's psyche? And how might such interrogations in turn enable intersectional approaches to social policy and clinical practice? Our aim is to enable an interdisciplinary conversation about psychopathology in relationship to gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, diaspora, and postcoloniality.



Emily Fox-Kales is a clinical psychologist who specializes in the history and treatment of eating disorders in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. She has also served on the faculty of Northeastern University teaching feminist media studies and is the author of Body Shots: Hollywood and the Culture of Eating Disorders. Emily has served as the Film Editor for the journal Gender and Psychoanalysis. Currently, she is also a Visiting Scholar at the Women’s Research Study Center at Brandeis University.


Emilie Diouf is an Assistant Professor of English at Brandeis University. She specializes in Anglophone and Francophone postcolonial African literatures and film with an emphasis on gender, feminist theory, trauma and cultural memory. Her publications have focused on the interdisciplinary study of the relationship between narrative, trauma, and humanitarianism. She is currently working on a book that examines testimonial narratives of political violence and forced displacement by women writers from Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda. It investigates how these writers use trauma testimony to bring to the fore the psychosocial effects of gendered violence across the enmeshed histories of political violence across the Great Lakes Region. The book ultimately seeks to highlight strategies of narrative witnessing that problematize the humanitarian mechanisms set in place to address gendered violence in the region.