We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. By continuing to browse this repository, you give consent for essential cookies to be used. You can read more about our Privacy and Cookie Policy.

Durham e-Theses
You are in:

Decolonial Approaches to Reading Distress, Healing, and (Well)being in Contemporary African Diasporic Contexts

THAMPURAN, ARYA,SHREE (2022) Decolonial Approaches to Reading Distress, Healing, and (Well)being in Contemporary African Diasporic Contexts. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

Full text not available from this repository.
Author-imposed embargo until 28 June 2025.


Taking a decolonial and intersectional approach, this thesis formulates a reading practice for attending to expressions of distress and healing in contemporary African contexts. Drawing on literature, visual and performance art, film and television, this work explores how these creative engagements engage with indigenous Afro-diasporic epistemologies to resist or rescript Eurocentric narratives of illness and recovery. Considering how the ‘healthy’ subject in the psychiatric imaginary is produced at the intersection of contemporary neocolonial, neuroscientific, and neoliberal discourses, this work suggests that the body might instead be used to reimagine alternative modes of selfhood and relationality, beyond an often disembodying and depoliticising biomedical register.

The first chapter unpacks Eurocentric conceptions of reality and being, considering how the distressed subject has been constructed through a Western psychiatric imaginary. I suggest that indigenous African ontologies and cosmologies might allow us to replot aetiology and pathology beyond a conventional psychiatric narrative, depathologising distress itself. I attend to the most visible signifier of difference and a site where racialised violence has been inscribed: the skin. Here I draw on a range of sociocultural, psychoanalytic, and medical discourses to dislocate the epistemic binary between mythology and reality. I begin with visual artist Wangechi Mutu’s collagic reworking of the mythologised black female body. I situate this alongside expressions of embodied distress in Akwaeke Emezi’s semi-autobiographical, queer Bildungsroman, Freshwater, and Yrsa Daley-Ward’s memoir, The Terrible. I find striking resonances in biomedical and sociocultural appraisals of the skin and brain, which intersect to produce a neoliberal subject oriented towards resilience, flexibility, and happiness. The second chapter explores how the healthy citizen-subject has been modelled in contemporary ‘neuroculture’. I interrogate the structural asymmetries that create conditions of distress, and afford conditional access to particular institutional visions of (well)being. Bebe Moore Campbell’s 72 Hour Hold and Jacqueline Roy’s The Fat Lady Sings offer insights through their depictions of women under psychiatric care in the U.S. and Britain respectively. Eloghosa Osunde’s visual art series, ‘Color this Brain’, and Zinzi Clemmons’ What We Lose allow us to reimagine the relationship between the brain and distress in ways that exceed the visual and verbal toolkit of neuropsychiatry. I conclude by turning to the question of healing: what does it mean to be ‘whole’ and ‘well’? I consider the body as a medium for establishing networks of communal care and connection. I explore how Toni Cade Bambara’s novel The Salt Eaters and Selina Thompson’s performance art piece, salt., undertake the cultural labour of imagining curative spaces and trajectories for the future that are more meaningfully aligned with black women’s needs and desires.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Decolonial, Medical Humanities, Mental Health, Cross-Cultural Psychiatry, Race, African Studies, Contemporary Literature
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English Studies, Department of
Thesis Date:2022
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:04 Jul 2022 14:51

Social bookmarking: del.icio.usConnoteaBibSonomyCiteULikeFacebookTwitter