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The Politics of Madness: Gender and Psychiatry through Film Theory

Location: MIT

Thursday 3:00-6:00PM

September 7, 2017 - December 14, 2017

As far back as Greek antiquity’s diagnosis of hysteria as a function of the “wandering uterus”, popular understanding of female psychopathology has been located in the body of the woman. As such, the natural history of psychiatry is inextricably linked to cultural constructions of power, gender and psychosexuality and thus provides a rich and complex context within with to interrogate the hegemonic medicalization of mental illness and human behavior. This course will bring together conceptual tools from the disciplines of medical anthropology, clinical psychology, and film studies. We will put into dialogue media representations and scholarly analyses from two cultural sites—India and the US—to investigate four clinical entities: trauma, paranoia, hysteria, and eating disorders/body image disturbances, with the goal of complicating universalizing assumptions about illness, healing medical practices, and psychosexual development. Key questions we will address include: how do comparisons of psychiatric structures illuminate gendered emotional experience across cultures and psychohistories? How does the practice of psychiatry in different settings both perpetuate and destabilize patriarchal narratives of the women’s psyche? And how might such interrogations in turn inform social policy and clinical practice?



Emily Fox-Kales is a clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders in the Department of Psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School. She also teaches feminist media studies at Northeastern University. She has served as Film Editor of the journal Gender & Psychoanalysis and is the author of Body Shots: Hollywood and the Culture of Eating Disorders.


Sarah Pinto is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Tufts University, who specializes in medical anthropology, gender and sexuality, kinship, and global mental health. She is author of Where There is No Midwife: Birth and Loss in Rural India, and Daughters of Parvati: Women and Madness in Contemporary India, and co-editor of Postcolonial Disorders