Colonialism and the production of psychiatric knowledge in the Cape, 1891-1920

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This dissertation describes the evolution of psychiatric practice in the Cape during period 1891-1920, following the appointment of the colony's first Inspector of Asylums. It was a time during which legal reform and social and economic change brought about significant shifts in management of the Cape insane population. The dissertation describes conditions of increasingly strict segregation of patients according to racial categorisation and gender. It argues that this period was pivotal in establishing psychiatric practices closely related to those in Britain. Particular attention is given to the history of Val ken berg Asylum. which opened in 1891, and was the colony's first whites-only asylum. The dissertation describes those features of colonialism rendered visible through Cape psychiatric practice, and explores their implications for the management of the Cape insane. It argues that Cape psychiatry mirrored and contributed to the racist and sexist attitudes upon which exploitation of the colonised population was predicated, though the production of racist knowledge about the colonised population. The dissertation uses management of the insane in the Cape as an example through which to explore the complex ways in which the 'mother' country was made present in colonial practice through the creation of structures which not only insisted on a hierarchy of knowledge and power flowing from coloniser to colonised but also constructed the indigenous as susceptible to rule. The dissertaion argues that texts have primacy as the medium through which knowledge is formulated, circulated and sustained. Discourse analysis of a wide variety of texts provide a reading of the institutional and discursive practices associated with Cape colonial psychiatry. Doctors, around whose activities psychiatric practice was constellated, are the dominant voice in theses texts. However, the subaltern voices of the insane can be distinguished in the contradictions, and silences of the case records, analysis of which is a central focus of the study. Case records are a largely neglected resource in histories of insanity, psychiatry, and asylums. This dissertation formulate and illustrates a method of reading case records which attempts to address the theoretical and methodological problems which have, in the past, contributed to their neglect as a resource.

Bibliography: leaves 221-232.