Postcolonial Disorders


"Postcolonial disorders" refers to a conceptual area of focus that occurs at the nexus of medical anthropology and psychological anthropology. Postcolonial disorders studies include the diverse topics traditionally researched by medical anthropologists such as health, wellness, illness and healing. These topics are examined through the lens of postcolonial theory, which focuses on the constructed social and political spaces that were once in their histories subjected to colonization by one or more foreign powers.external image images?q=tbn:ANd9GcRHtHRw_NKOB9vW2OH7KP2nweKnaa3Rjy4bL8YLO9hXyRMq5F_K


Postcolonial disorders incorporate theories from medical anthropology, psychological anthropology, globalization studies and other fields.[1] A key work in the field is Postcolonial Disorders edited by Mary Jo DelVecchio Good, Byron Good, Sandra Hyde and Sarah Pinto.

Understanding of the role that historical dispossession, embodied pathologies of melancholy and other determinants of social illness is one outcome of ethnographic research informed by a postcolonial critical perspective. That perspective and its resulting insights have begun to inform applied medical anthropological work like that of indigenous population health practitioner Dr. Bonny Duran, DrPH, at the University of Washington, School of Public Health, Institute for Indigenous Wellness Research Institute. A video of her articulating the applied postcolonial critical perspective and its role in her work can be seen below.

Case Studies/Examples

One case study from the literature on postcolonial disorders was conducted in Haiti. Erica Caple James's ethnographic account of the interplay between religious ritual, gender-based violence and overall insecurity in contemporary Haiti is entitled "Haunting Ghosts: Madness, Gender and Ensekirite in Haiti in the Democratic Era."[2]

A second case study useful for exemplifying postcolonial approaches to medical anthropology is presented in the essay, "The Elegiac Addict: History, Chronicity, and the Melancholic Subject" by Angela Garcia.[3] Garcia uses a psychoanalytic lens to understand heroin addiction among dispossessed Hispanos in northern New Mexico. She argues that these addicts may find themselves in a constant process of “returning” both to their historic and to their personal pasts.

Another example is the work Michael J. Kral, who studies suicide and gendered violence as symptoms of changing familial relations and other postcolonial cultural shifts among Inuit youth in Arctic Canada.[4] Along with Joseph P. Gone, whose work addresses mental health problems among American Indians,[5] Kral advocates for culturally specific community-based alternatives to conventional mental health interventions. Gone warns that despite good intentions, practitioners of community psychology are seen by some as merely perpetuating the colonial project of imposing Western culture on native peoples.

Related Terms/Pages

Terms: Embodiment; Globalization; Governmentality

People: Byron Good; Mary Jo Delvecchio-Good; Arthur Kleinman

Health Problems: Human trafficking; Depression

Methods: Ethnography; Cross-cultural comparison; Archival Research

Online Resources

The Institute for Indigenous Wellness Research does applied postcolonial work. More about that organization can be found at the following website.

Further Reading

Comaroff, J., Comarof, J. editors. (2006). Law and Disorder in the Postcolony. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Garcia, Angela. (2010). The Pastoral Clinic: Addiction and Dispossession Along the Rio Grande. Berkeley: University of California Press.


  1. ^ Del Vecchio Good, M., Hyde, S., Pinto, S. Good, B. editors (2008) Postcolonial Disorders. Los Angeles: University of California Press.
  2. ^ Del Vecchio Good, M., Hyde, S., Pinto, S. Good, B. editors (2008) Postcolonial Disorders. Los Angeles: University of California Press.
  3. ^ Good, B. Fischer, M. Willen, S. DelVecchio Good, M. (2010) A Reader in Medical Anthropology: Theoretical Trajectories, Emergent Realities. Massachusetts:Wiley-Blackwell.
  4. ^ Kral, Michael J. (2013) "‘The Weight on Our Shoulders Is Too Much, and We Are Falling’: Suicide among Inuit Male Youth in Nunavut, Canada." Medical Anthropology Quarterly 27(1): 63-83.
  5. ^ Gone, J. P. (2007). "'We Never was Happy Living Like a Whiteman': Mental Health Disparities and the Postcolonial Predicament in American Indian Communities." American Journal of Community Psychology 40: 290-300.