Published online by Cambridge University Press: 02 July 2012
In general, during the nineteenth century the British were indifferent to the condition of the insane in colonial Burma. This was most apparent in the Rangoon lunatic asylum, which was a neglected institution reformed reluctantly and episodically following internal crises of discipline and the occasional public scandal. However, whilst psychiatry was generally neglected, British officials did intervene when and where insanity threatened the colonial order. This occurred in the criminal courts where the presence of suspected lunatics was disruptive to the administration of justice. Insanity was also a problem for the colonial regime within the European community, where erratic behaviour was viewed as a threat to racial prestige. This paper shows how, despite its neglected status in Burma, psychiatric knowledge contributed to British understandings of Burman masculinity and to the maintenance of colonial norms of European behaviour.
The author gratefully acknowledges the financial support from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), and would also like to thank Ian Brown, Rachel E. Johnson, Michael Charney and Ravi Ahuja for their comments on versions of this paper, in its various stages and guises.
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