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Colonial Madness

Psychiatry in French North Africa

Nineteenth-century French writers and travelers imagined Muslim colonies in North Africa to be realms of savage violence, lurid sexuality, and primitive madness. Colonial Madness traces the genealogy and development of this idea from the beginnings of colonial expansion to the present, revealing the ways in which psychiatry has been at once a weapon in the arsenal of colonial racism, an innovative branch of medical science, and a mechanism for negotiating the meaning of difference for republican citizenship.

Drawing from extensive archival research and fieldwork in France and North Africa, Richard Keller offers much more than a history of colonial psychology. Colonial Madness explores the notion of what French thinkers saw as an inherent mental, intellectual, and behavioral rift marked by the Mediterranean, as well as the idea of the colonies as an experimental space freed from the limitations of metropolitan society and reason. These ideas have modern relevance, Keller argues, reflected in French thought about race and debates over immigration and France’s postcolonial legacy.

320 pages | 10 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2007

African Studies

Black Studies

History: African History, European History


"This book is about far more than the title implies. It is actually about the psychology of the colonial encounter itself, and what a damning account it is. . . . One of the most interesting and innovative analyses of colonial medicine I have read...fascinating."

Nancy E. Gallagher | International Journal of African Historical Studies

“A sophisticated account of colonial psychiatry’s development as a social practice with enduring implications for the ’global present’. . . . Keller could have written a medical history focused on practitioners. Instead he restores to the historical record the very subjectvity denied North African patients by their doctors. The choices of literary luminaries such as Kateb Yacine (whose mother was a psychiatric patient) join those captured through a remarkable reading between the lines of doctors’ notebooks.”

Mary D. Lewis | Times Literary Supplement

"Keller’s study fills an important gap in the extant literature while offering surprising and innovative insights into the relationship between colony and metropole with a particular focus on French rule in North Africa. . . . Keller has produced an important,. innovative, and interesting work of scholarship solidly grounded in archival research, and inflected with literary analysis. . . . The book is sure to become standard reading for anyone interested in the history of psychiatry or French colonialism."."

James E. Genova | International History Review

"Keller’s inventive methodology and deft use of a diverse source base makes this work relevant to all historians of colonial experience. . . . Keller’s brilliant history tells a new story of science in North Africa and offers the first bridge across the disciplinary divide in North African studies between history and anthropology."

Ellen Amster | Middle East Journal

"An intellectual and interdisciplinary tour de force."

Leland Conley Barrows | H-Net Book Review

"[The book] will be as informative to historians of psychiatry as it will be useful to literary critics of Maghrebian francophonie. . . . A rich historical perspective on colonial psychiatry and its lingering legacy to the politics of ethnic diversity in the Francophone world."

Vernon A. Rosario | H-France

"Combining an intellectual history of clinical practice and scientific theory with a social and cultural history of the institution and experience of psychiatry in a colonial context, Richard Keller’s book is a valuable contribution both to the comparative history of medicine and to the critical history of colonialism."

James McDougall | Journal of African Studies

"Keller has written a very important book that not only offers new understandings of French colonialism . . . but more generally demonstrates how knowledge and science, race and power, were insinuated into the emerging field of psychiatry. . . . Keller’s study should be required reading for scholars and students concerned with French colonialism in the Maghreb and globally, with comparative empires, and with the history of science, medicine, and race. But it is also important for a more general readership curious and courageous enough to draw lessons from Keller’s research . . . to comprehend where America is right now, how we got here, and what the future holds for our own empire."

Julia Clancy-Smith | American Historical Review

"A meticulous study that should be of interest to French and African historians alike."

Sloan Mahone | Isis

"[Keller’s] research is impeccable in its detail, based on published and archival sources that are not exxplored by other scholars. . . . Perhaps best of all, Keller shows how the problems of colonial psychiatry are found still in contemporary European centres through the issues of immigration. . . . [Keller] knows what is going on in the European centres as well. This fact alone makes Keller’s contribution one of outstanding significance in this area of the historiography of psychiatry, and should be a benchmark that other historians aim to reach."

Ivan Crozier | History of Psychiatry

Table of Contents



1   Pinel in the Maghreb: Liberation and Confinement in a Landscape of Sickness

2   Shaping Colonial Psychiatry: Geographies of Innovation and Economies of Care

3   Spaces of Experimentation, Sites of Contestation: Doctors, Patients, and Treatments

4   Between Clinical and Useful Knowledge: Race, Ethnicity, and the Conquest of the "Primitive"

5   Violence, Resistance, and the Poetics of Suffering: Colonial Madness between Franz Fanon and Kateb Yacine

6   Underdevelopment, Migration, and Dislocation: Postcolonial Histories of Colonial Psychiatry



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