Matthew M. Heaton

Black Skin, White Coats

Nigerian Psychiatrists, Decolonization, and the Globalization of Psychiatry

Ohio University Press 2013

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In Black Skin, White Coats: Nigerian Psychiatrists, Decolonization, and the Globalization of Psychiatry (Ohio University Press, 2013), Matthew M. Heaton explores changes in psychiatric...

In Black Skin, White Coats: Nigerian Psychiatrists, Decolonization, and the Globalization of Psychiatry (Ohio University Press, 2013), Matthew M. Heaton explores changes in psychiatric theory and practice during the decolonization of European empires in Africa in the mid-twentieth century. His story follows the transcultural Nigerian psychiatrists who tried to transform the discourse around and treatment of mental illness in both their local contexts and in global psychiatric circles. The decolonization of psychiatry, Heaton argues, had an “intensely cross-cultural, transnational, and international character that cannot be separated from local, regional, and national developments” (5). Heaton shows how, amid these contexts and changes, Nigerian psychiatrists actively participated in negotiating postcolonial modernity and the place of global psychiatry within it. The book begins by tracing the larger story from colonialism to postcolonialism: the first chapter offers an essential, incisive account of “Colonial Institutions and Networks of Ethnopsychiatry”; the second chapter lays out the decolonizing of psychiatric institutions and networks in the 1950s and 1960s, a story told mainly through the fascinating figure of Thomas Adeoye Lambo. In the remaining four chapters, Heaton narrows the aperture of historical lens to explore particular cases: Nigerian migrants in the UK who experienced psychiatric issues; debates about culture-bound syndromes such as “brain fag disease” and universality of psychiatric diseases; encounters between psychotherapists and “traditional” healers; and the ambivalence around the use and meaning of drug therapies by Nigerian psychiatrists. Black Skin, White Coats persuasively shows us that postcolonial psychiatry in particular and postcolonial modernity more broadly are best understood in terms of connectivity and interrelatedness rather than provincial dichotomies. In so doing, he also succeeds in bringing together scholarly areas such as African Studies, the history of medicine and psychology, and postcolonial studies.

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