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Fifty years after Frantz Fanon: beyond diversity

  • Adedapo Sikuade


Frantz Fanon (1925–1961), a West Indian of mixed race, was a French colonial psychiatrist trained in Lyon, France, who worked mainly in colonial North Africa between 1953 and 1957. He was one of the earliest psychiatrists to suggest that the lived experience of ethnic minorities within a discriminatory colonial environment could trigger mental illness. This article focuses on Fanon's work and contributions to psychiatry, as well as his philosophy, advocacy for social inclusion and pioneering work in culturally relevant rehabilitation. It also examines what lessons could be learnt from his life's work as a psychiatrist and traces his influence on a generation of psychiatric researchers, suggesting how his contribution may have influenced critical thought and current views.

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Corresponding author

Adedapo Sikuade, 7 Torridon Close, Leicester LE4 0RH, UK. Email:


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Fifty years after Frantz Fanon: beyond diversity

  • Adedapo Sikuade


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Fifty years after Frantz Fanon: beyond diversity

  • Adedapo Sikuade
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Zekria Ibrahimi, psychiatric patient
27 June 2012

Psychiatry possesses a dangerous attraction towards politics. Psychiatry is not 'pure' science, but, rather, reflects contemporary fashions and prejudices. Psychiatry has proved able to fluctuate towards the extremes, communist and fascist. It served both Stalin and Hitler in putting down dissidents and minorities.

Frantz Fanon had to deal with a French psychiatric establishment thatlooked down on the average Algerian as a criminal with a primitive cortex (1). French psychiatry was on the side of Empire against Arab freedom. Fanon in the 1950's concluded that imperialism was disturbing the psychology of both oppressors and oppressed.

The pull of psychiatry and politics towards each other had been most terrible in the 1940's. Psychiatry chose to put itself at the centre of the Holocaust (2). The first gas chambers, masquerading as 'shower rooms',were set up in German mental hospitals to murder patients. On behalf of eugenic principles, Nazi psychiatrists were ghoulishly enthusiastic about applying euthanasia to the disabled. The archetypal Nazi psychiatrist was Imfried Eberl, the creator and commandant of Treblinka.

Modern psychiatry might like to claim that it is more compassionate, more objective, more evidence- based. But it has perhaps become too attached to the demands of the drug industry, which churns out new patented products turning out not to be the 'miracles' they most loudly promised to be.

Why is psychiatry so prone to political (and commercial) manipulation?


(1) Frantz Fanon A Critical Study. Irene L. Gendzier. Wildwood House Limited. 1973.

(2) Nazi Euthanasia of the Mentally Ill at Hadamar. Rael D. Strous. American Journal of Psychiatry 163:1, January 2006, pg. 27.

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Conflict of interest: None declared

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