Remeasuring Self and Society after Empire: The Human Sciences in Decolonization

22. May 2024 bis 24. May 2024

International conference on the history of the human sciences in the twentieth century. Keynote lecture by Helen Tilley (Northwestern).


Colonial sites have become privileged places to study the interaction of different knowledge systems. But what about the changes decolonization brought? Recently, the end of empire has entered history of science’s field of vision. This conference takes stock by focusing on the human sciences (particularly psychology, anthropology, pedagogy, sociology, medicine) – fields in which thinking about the self and society have been most intertwined. We’re especially interested in the sciences’ attempts to grasp human subjectivity at mid century, a moment in which questions of the universality and particularity of the human (“man”, “humankind”) had high political charge.


Wednesday 22 May 2024

Welcome and Introduction

Panel I: Conjecturing Spaces (room C1)


  • Nancy Rose Hunt (University of Florida): Psy Talk and the Social Sciences in Two Congolese Spaces, 1940s-1970s.
  • Carolyn Biltoft (Geneva Graduate Institute): Systemic Deconstructions and Reconstructions: Psychiatry, Postmodernism, and Global Holism after Decolonization.

11.00–11.15 Coffee Break


  • Allison Sanders (Institut des mondes africains): Grey Areas: Researchers between France and Africa at Decolonization.
  • Nana Osei Quarshie (Yale University): Political Lunacy and the Making of Independent Ghana.

12.45-14.15 Lunch


Panel II: Redefining Social Categories (room C1)


  • Zine Magubane (Boston College): W.E.B DuBois and Pan-Africanism: The Impact of Decolonization on His Sociological Imagination.
  • Erik Linstrum (University of Virginia): Follow the Leader, Not the Elite: Authority and the Human Sciences in the Age of Decolonization.

15.45–16.15 Coffee Break


  • Ishita Pande (Queen’s University, Kingston): De/Colonizing Sexology: Childhood, the Sciences of Homosexuality, and the Imagination of Hindu India.
  • Anne Schult (Washington University in St Louis): European Refugees at the End of Empire.

18.15-19.30 Keynote lecture (Auditorium A2)

Helen Tilley (Northwestern University): "Thinking with Blind Men and Elephants: A Dialogue on Personhood, Empires, and Unknowable Things"


Thursday, 23 May 2024

Panel III: Sciences as Shifting Fields (room C1)


  • Damiano Matasci (Université de Genève): A Shared Knowledge? Human Sciences and Inter-imperial Cooperation in Late Colonial Africa.
  • Ian Merkel (University of Groningen): The Human Sciences at the Semi periphery: National Autonomy, North Atlantic Collaborations, and Budding Global South Visions in Postwar Latin America.

11.00-11.15 Coffee Break


  • Joshua Klein (Geneva Graduate Institute): From the Field to the Self: French Anthropology, Social Psychiatry and the Ambiguous Study of Acculturation in the Age of Decolonization, 1950–1980.
  • Sebastián Gil-Riaño (University of Pennsylvania): From “Cultural Change” to “Deculturation”: Making and Molding Cold War Violence in Paraguay during the 1970s.

12.45–14.15 Lunch

Panel IV: Registering Subjectivity (room C1)


  • Pokuaa Oduro-Bonsrah (Geneva Graduate Institute): Peering into Intimate Spaces: Psy Scientists and their Observations of Child Rearing Practices in Uganda (1940-1970s)
  • Leighan Renaud (University of Bristol): Re-Mapping Family Trees in Contemporary Caribbean Literature

15.45-16.15 Coffee Break


  • Richard Phillips (University of Sheffield): Adventure After Empire: Decolonizing Popular Geographies
  • Rosa Eidelpes (Universität Wien): Ethnoboom, the Project of an “Alternative Ethnology” and Self-Alienation, or: Decolonizing the European Subject?


Friday 24 May 2024

Panel V: Universality, Particularity (room C1)


  • Omnia El Shakry (Yale University): Freud in Translation: Three Essays, a Survey, and a Group
  • Sloan Mahone (University of Oxford): From Abeokuta to the World: African Psychiatry and the Struggle for Universality in the Period of Decolonization

11.00-11.15 Coffee Break


  • Mischa Suter (Geneva Graduate Institute): Psychoanalysis, Psychosis and Racism between West Africa and Western Europe in the 1960s


Concluding Discussion

12.30: End of Conference – Snacks/Lunch


This event is organised by the Gender Centre as part of the research project funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation on Decolonising the Psyche: The Politics of Ethnopsychology, 1930–1980.


Picture: The African Library, by Yinka Shonibare @ Lois GoBe | Shutterstock

Organised by
Geneva Graduate Institute


Geneva Graduate Institute,
rue Eugène Rigot 2
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