MESA - Middle East Studies Association

MESA 2017 Member Calls for Participation

Name of Organizer: Ana Vinea
Email: avinea@umich.edu
Proposed Session Title: Psychiatry in the Middle East: Hospitals, Science, and Care
Deadline for Abstracts: January 25, 2017
Arguably, psychiatry as an institution, a science and a mode of care has been under-researched in the Middle East. This is despite its wide-ranging and multifaceted historical presence in the region, beginning with the 19th and early 20th century’s establishment of asylums and the employment of psy-concepts and practices in diverse social fields and forms of knowledge, from pedagogy to colonial ethnography to name a few. Ever since, psychiatry has played a major role in the reconfiguration of normality, subjectivity, and governance, amidst the various social and political transformations that have reshaped the region.

This panel aims to contribute to recent studies that have begun to fill this lacuna (e.g. Keller 2007, Schayegh 2009, Pandolfo 2009, Mittermaier 2011, El Shakry 2014, Behrouzan 2016) by examining modern and contemporary psychiatry in the Middle East from the 19th century to the present. As these researchers, we take lead from the scholars of psychiatry who have approached it from multiple points of view, documenting its history, examining its current practices, and critiquing its interventions. While these latter studies have mainly focused on psychiatry in the West, the project of psychiatry in peripheral places can be a critical site for investigating how global diagnostics and treatments adapt to and are transformed by local actors in specific contexts. In a more recent development, humanitarian psychiatry (Fassin & Rechtman 2009) has emerged in the Middle East as a new humanitarian expertise that adopts psychiatric interventions to treat victims of violence and war. Psychiatry has moved from asylums to the clinic and the humanitarian field as it became part of emergency humanitarian interventions. Psychiatric disorders like PTSD, anxiety, OCD and schizophrenia are common diagnoses in the Middle East, with some diagnoses being more contested and debated than others from different points of view. These diagnoses have been accompanied by the rise of a major psycho-pharmaceutical market in the region that has further shaped understandings and lived experiences of subjectivity and mental illness.

In light of this proliferation of psychiatry and the psychologization of everyday life, this panel investigates psychiatry as an institution, a science, and a mode of care through anthropological, historical, and literary accounts from the Middle East. Drawing from various historical episodes and present formations, we ask: What is the history, forms, and trajectory of psychiatry as an institutional formation in the Middle East? How has the institutionalization of psychiatry transformed understandings and practices around insanity and madness? What ideological and societal roles has the framing of psychiatry as a science has played and continues to play in the region? What contestations to such claims of scientificity have surfaced and how they have shaped the practice and position of psychiatry in the Middle East? What are the modes of care that psychiatry offers and what are their effects on the remodeling of normality, (disordered) subjectivity, and governance?

We invite contributions that focus on one or more of the following topics, or on other topics linked with the general theme of the panel:
-19th century asylums and contemporary psychiatric hospitals in the Middle East
-the history of psychiatric concepts and practices in the region
-psychiatry and colonialism
-psychiatric spaces: asylums, contemporary psychiatric hospitals, clinics
-the formation of psy-professionals
-psycho-pharmaceutical markets
-psychiatry and the law
-humanitarian psychiatry: refugees, war, and violence
-psychiatry as science
-the history and ethnography of psychologization
-the formation and transformation of the psychiatric patient
-disordered subjectivities and psychiatric care
-gender and psychiatry


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