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Anthropology and “Psy” Sciences at the Crossroads Between Conflicts and Influences: Theoretical and Methodological Approaches in Relation to Psychic Suffering


October 13-14, 2023


Paola Juan, UNIL

Joshua Klein, IHEID

Michael Roelli, UNIL


Prof. Simona Taliani, IHEID

Prof. Roberto Beneduce, University of Torino 


Since the beginning of the 20th century, many epistemological and methodological porosities have existed and remain debated between the discipline of anthropology on the one hand, and psychiatry, psychology and psychoanalysis on the other (Gammeltoft and Segal, 2016; Taliani 2010). Beyond an exhaustive panorama of the history of the conflicting views and links between these disciplines, this workshop seeks to better define current debates and how they can be productive and important for anthropologists who treat these topics, and also for researchers coming from other fields – in particular history of science and migration studies, but also psychology and philosophy -, through three complementary thematic angles: (1) Relations between psychoanalysis, phenomenology and ethnography. Both psychoanalysis and phenomenology have had a significant influence on social anthropology, in various ways (see for ex. Casey and Edgerton, 2005; Favret-Saada, 1977, 1990, 2009; Csordas, 1990; Ram and Houston, 2015). While ethnography has become a method and theory in itself in order to acquire knowledge through experience, embodiment and time, the notion of experience is used today as an argumentative legitimation strategy in order to value psychiatric users' perspectives (Costa, 2014; LeFrançois et al. 2013). To what extent are ethnographic, phenomenological and psychoanalytic approaches complementary or conflicting? How can different forms of vulnerability create solidarity and help the understanding of other ontologies and cultural frames? How can these different traditions of thought help anthropologists approach psychic phenomena, psychological suffering, and forms of alienation more generally? (2) The issue of violence in psychiatric institutions and psychological suffering. Phenomenology and ethnography also constitute traditions that are key to methodologically helping anthropologists grasp forms of violence. How are systemic forms of domination, in particular gender, sexual and racial violence expressed, repressed or made visible in care practices, forms of psychological control, affective relationships and stigma? What place do they take in spaces where psychological suffering and its sometimes violent manifestations towards oneself or others are part of the shaping and ontological rationale of institutions (see Das et al., 2000; Jenkins and Csordas, 2020; Segal, 2016; Zigon, 2018)? This issue is to be discussed not only in psychiatric hospitals but in all forms of constraining and psychologically damaging forms of environments – asylums created for regulating and controlling migration movements, prisons, shelters for homeless people, etc. (Diagne and Lovell, 2020; Lovell, Cook and Velpry, 2008; Lovell and Rhodes, 2014; Taliani 2012, 2017)? (3) Ethics, Mental Health, and Anthropology: methods and practices. Ethics and violence can often become two sides of the same coin. How are these two interlinked, in particular in relation to the aims and modus operandi of ethics committees? What methods and research practices are ethical in terms of psychological risks for anthropologists going into sensitive fields? How to concretely approach contractions and links between affective, subjective experiences in vulnerable and/or silenced communities on the one hand, and ethical guidelines influenced by individualistic deontological conceptions on the other (see Stodulka, 2018; Zigon 2007; Fassin, 2006; Massé, 2015)? All themes focus on ethnographic methods in relation to psychological suffering, and their interlinks to epistemological, deontological and political questions. This exploration will benefit from key speakers' experiences with a variety of methods, in several ethnographic environments – in Western and African contexts, in relation to migration, and in urban settings. Ph.D. candidates coming from various fieldwork contexts and confronted with different methodological and ethical challenges are welcome. Participants willing to delve into such themes with historical methods – or to examine the difficulty of such endeavour (cf. Beneduce and Taliani, 2013) – are also welcome. We will dig into these topics through presentations from participants and invited speakers, followed by discussions. Time slots will be provided for discussions on materials and/or texts brought in by the participants in connection with their research.


Saint-Maurice VS


Participation fee: CHF 60 

For students of the CUSO universities (Geneva, Lausanne, Neuchâtel and Fribourg) and from the universities of Bern, Zürich, Luzern and Basel, accommodation and meals are organised and covered by the CUSO doctoral program in anthropology. Travel expenses will be reimbursed based on half-fare train ticket (2nd class) from the student's university to the place of the activity.



Deadline for registration 28.09.2023
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