CORDIS - EU research results

A History of Madness in West Africa: Governing Mental Disorder during Decolonisation (Senegal, Burkina Faso and Ghana - 1940s – 1970s)

Project description

Beyond psychiatry: an interdisciplinary analysis of mental disorder in Africa

The EU-funded MaDAf project aims to conduct research on the history of madness in West Africa during the decolonisation process and after the independence. It aims to produce a comparative social history of madness whose spectrum will go beyond the history of psychiatry. First, MaDAf will define and categorise madness, in order to analyse population control processes during the post-colonial era. Second, it will study all the institutions that handle madness in a punitive manner. Third, it will investigate the psychiatric institutions in West Africa, which are considered as a non-penal form of confinement. It is expected that the project's outcomes will carve out new paths in both African and global trends.


Combining multi-site archival work, the MaDAf project will outline a history of madness in West Africa, during the decolonisation period and after independence. The project will focus on three main areas connected to the history of Africa, decolonisation, and the history of madness: by looking at a the decolonisation and post-independence periods, the project aims firstly to underline the ruptures but also the continuities in the everyday government of madness; it will offer a theoretical framework for using hitherto unexplored archives in order to construct a comparative history of madness from below; it intends to give a comparative social history of madness that goes beyond the history of psychiatry, and to outline broader analytical pathways to integrating the results into global trends;
Although sociology and anthropology have explored mental disorder in Africa, this theme of research remains under-analysed by historians. This project follows three transversal lines of research: firstly, it will look at the processes of definition and categorisation of madness by a diversity of actors in order to analyse the processes of population control during the (post)colonial era; secondly, it will shed light on a multi-site analysis of madness in West Africa by looking beyond strictly psychiatric spaces in order to scrutinise all the institutions that handle madness in a punitive manner; thirdly, the project will investigate psychiatric institutions in West Africa, understood as a non-penal form of confinement.

MADAF will be the first detailed and comparative historical investigation of madness and psychiatry on the African continent. The project aims to offer ground-breaking results with regard to the ordinary practices and experiences of madness on the ground in West Africa. Combining the methodology offers by micro-history and social history and an interdisciplinary approach, the project will more generally open up new pathways in both African and global history.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 469 688,00
75794 Paris

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Ile-de-France Ile-de-France Paris
Activity type
Research Organisations
Total cost
€ 1 469 688,00

Beneficiaries (1)