Shifting Concepts: Race and Orality between Psychology and Anthropology during Decolonization

In the late stages of colonialism a discourse on the psyche of people from the Global South emerged in the borderlands of the disciplines of psychology and anthropology. That field was marked by an intense conversation between defenders of colonialist ideas of racial inferiority and alternative visions of human difference and equality. British-Kenyan physician J.C. Carothers, for instance, author of a widely-read book on the «African Mind» commissioned by the WHO in 1953, held a view that combined hereditary notions of race with environmental factors. Carothers found a positive reception even among scholars who explicitly rejected biological ideas of race. Race thus held an unstable presence in ethnopsychological discourse, partly superseded, partly supported by alternative approaches. One reason for this was that various approaches had a common focal point in a shared interest in early childhood, even though they drew very different conclusions from the observation of infantile socialization. For Swiss psychoanalyst Paul Parin and his collaborators, whose experiments with psychoanalysis in West Africa build the main focus of the paper, the «oral stage» served as a concept to account for ego formation. The paper thus follows the question how nature, nurture, and culture intersected as explanatory factors with respect to the shifting concepts of race and orality.

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