ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Insanity and Colonial Knowledge

A Study of ‘Tea-coolies’ in the Tezpur Lunatic Asylum, 1879–96

Insanity and Colonial Knowledge

Britain saw a significant establishment of asylums and perceptions about insanity at the end of the 18th century. Michel Foucault traced the historiography of institutional confinement and postulated that the history of madness shows the “great confinement.” Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason (1973) begins by describing the exclusion and confinement of lepers in the large leper houses scattered at the periphery of European cities. The new cultural content after the renaissance changed radically, from reason and madness in the classical era, to sanity and insanity. Foucault was not telling the story of scientific progress. He instead moved towards social increment, isolation, and confinement in the madhouses during the age of reason.

The social historiography of the Tezpur Lunatic Asylum can bring interesting new dimensions and debates to critically enquire the history of psychiatry and medicine under colonialism. From the colonial medical records, the article refers to the notion of “madness” and its variants. It emphasises on the social history of the TLA, which occupies a space between knowledge and power under colonial domination. It also critiques the power relations, while categorising the “insane” and bureaucratic involvement during such report writing processes.

Colonial Psychiatry

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Updated On : 23rd Oct, 2021

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