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Decolonising madness? Transcultural psychiatry, international order and the birth of a global psyche in the aftermath of the Second World War

Project description

Decolonisation effects on mental health sciences

In the aftermath of the Second World War and the process of decolonisation, a deep transformation in psychiatric notions of mental health and illness was effectuated and a new dialogue between Western and non-Western scientific communities was established. Decolonisation allowed for the identification and definition of universal psychological mechanisms allegedly common in all cultures. The EU-funded DECOLMAD project will explore this psychiatric, social and cultural approach aiming at a new definition of common humanity that emerged and was deployed in an increasingly interconnected and culturally different global frame; it will also examine the historical forces that supported it. The project will provide the first historical analysis of today’s global mental health movement and the first systematic report of the decolonisation of psychiatry and mental health sciences.


This project will provide crucial insights into the debate on the universality and cross-cultural applications of the notions of mental health and illness by offering the first and inter-disciplinary account of the historical origins and development of the concept of ‘global psyche’ and transcultural psychiatry. It will offer the first historical analysis of the colonial and post-colonial roots of the current global mental health movement, and the first systematic account of the decolonisation of psychiatry and mental health sciences. It will argue that the concept of universal, global psyche emerged in the aftermath of WWII and during decolonisation, when Western psychiatry strove to leave behind its colonial legacies, and lay the foundation for a more inclusive conversation between Western and non-Western mental health communities. In this period, leading psychiatrists across the globe set about identifying and defining the universal psychological mechanisms supposedly shared among all cultures (and 'civilisations'). I will explore this far-reaching psychiatric, social and cultural search for a new definition of 'common humanity', which developed in an increasingly inter-connected and culturally diverse global context, and examine the historical forces that drove it. I will also examine how the profession negotiated the tensions between researching cultural particularities and developing new, cross-cultural models of the mind.
The project will answer some of the core questions related to this transformative period: How did psychiatrists and anthropologists from all over the world re-define the relationship between culture, race and individual psyche following the end of the Second World War and colonialism, what was the role of experts from the Global South and Eastern Europe in this transformative process, and did this new global and transcultural psychiatry succeed in departing from the erstwhile colonial frameworks?

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 499 952,00
1165 Kobenhavn

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Danmark Hovedstaden Byen København
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 499 952,00

Beneficiaries (1)