Disalienation: Politics, Philosophy, and Radical Psychiatry in Postwar France (Chicago Studies in Practices of Meaning) (Paperback)
From 1940 to 1945, forty thousand patients died in French psychiatric hospitals. The Vichy regime’s “soft extermination” let patients die of cold, starvation, or lack of care. But in Saint-Alban-sur-Limagnole, a small village in central France, one psychiatric hospital attempted to resist. Hoarding food with the help of the local population, the staff not only worked to keep patients alive but began to rethink the practical and theoretical bases of psychiatric care. The movement that began at Saint-Alban came to be known as institutional psychotherapy and would go on to have a profound influence on postwar French thought.
In Disalienation, Camille Robcis grapples with the historical, intellectual, and psychiatric meaning of the ethics articulated at Saint-Alban by exploring the movement’s key thinkers, including François Tosquelles, Frantz Fanon, Félix Guattari, and Michel Foucault. Anchored in the history of one hospital, Robcis's study draws on a wide geographic context—revolutionary Spain, occupied France, colonial Algeria, and beyond—and charts the movement's place within a broad political-economic landscape, from fascism to Stalinism to postwar capitalism.
About the Author
Camille Robcis is associate professor of French and history at Columbia University. She is the author of The Law of Kinship: Anthropology, Psychoanalysis, and the Family in France.
"Fascism and collaboration with it are not just political choices: they also demand a particular state of mind. In this study of institutional psychotherapy in postwar France, Robcis presents us a gripping and wide-ranging analysis of authoritarianism’s entanglements with histories of colonialism and violence. Configuring institutional psychotherapy as a form of political theory, Robcis deterritorializes psychoanalysis. In the process, she brings together the psychic and the political, the asylum and the colony, and the mother and the motherland."
— David L. Eng, coauthor of Racial Melancholia, Racial Dissociation: On the Social and Psychic Lives of Asian Americans
"This is a superb history of how the theory and praxis of institutional psychotherapy inflects the work of French thinkers. Robcis reframes the intellectual history of a strain of French theory by explaining not only the influence of institutional therapy and antipsychiatry on the works of diverse thinkers, but also the deep political and affective commitments that infuse and shape them. It is an insightful account of the constellation out of which emerged some of the most consequential ideas in late-twentieth-century French thought. An impressive achievement."
— Carolyn J. Dean, author of The Moral Witness: Trials and Testimony after Genocide
"As Robcis re-creates the imaginative and practical contexts in which a profound revolution in psychiatric care was implemented at the nexus of antifascism, Surrealism, resistance to Nazi occupation, and decolonial insurgency, she models a marvelously fresh approach to intellectual history, with genuinely new takes on such iconic figures as Fanon, Foucault, and Guattari. Disalienation clarifies, from myriad vantages, the constant inextricability of psychic and political processes."
— Dagmar Herzog, author of Unlearning Eugenics: Sexuality, Reproduction, and Disability in Post-Nazi Europe