The Infantilization of the Colonized: Medical and Psychiatric Descriptions of Drinking Habits in the Colonial Maghreb

Studer, Nina S. (2021). The Infantilization of the Colonized: Medical and Psychiatric Descriptions of Drinking Habits in the Colonial Maghreb. In: Ouaissa, Rachid; Pannewick, Friederike; Strohmaier, Alena (eds.) Re-Configurations. Contextualising Transformation Processes and Lasting Crises in the Middle East and North Africa. Politik und Gesellschaft des Nahen Ostens (pp. 135-151). Wiesbaden: Springer 10.1007/978-3-658-31160-5_9

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French doctors and psychiatrists traveling through or working in the colonial Maghreb during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries commonly reported in their publications that the colonized they encountered reminded them of children. They also described practically every aspect of the behavior of the colonized as childlike in some respect. While this equation of the colonized with children was by no means restricted to the medico-psychiatric source material and can be found in a variety of different colonial publications, this chapter will focus on publications by doctors and psychiatrists, as their status as widely accepted experts and as alleged pillars of science and modernity made their statements, in the eyes of their French readership, more authoritative than those of other authors. Though this is usually not stated explicitly, the children imagined in these comparisons were presumably European, which accords with a long tradition of European medical and psychiatric experts comparing the colonized to an imaginary European normality. Yet comparisons of the colonized with children in the publications of French doctors and psychiatrists were more than just colorful and anecdotal descriptions of life in the colonies; they were part of an implicit, ongoing process of diagnosing the behavior of the colonized as intrinsically different from French behavior. These comparisons implicitly suggested that colonized adults and European children were roughly on the same developmental level, and concluded that both groups had a similar relationship to French adults: that is, receiving education from them, following their lead, and letting them make important decisions on their behalf. The framing of the colonized as children highlights the colonial understanding of there being a clear power imbalance in the colonies—with France as the undisputed paterfamilias, so to speak, and with the colonized unable to reach French levels of reason and modernity on their own.

Item Type:

Book Section (Book Chapter)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of Art and Cultural Studies > Institute for Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies

UniBE Contributor:

Studer, Nina Salouâ


200 Religion > 290 Other religions
300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology > 390 Customs, etiquette & folklore
900 History > 940 History of Europe
900 History > 960 History of Africa




Politik und Gesellschaft des Nahen Ostens






Nina Salouâ Studer

Date Deposited:

15 Jun 2020 10:03

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:38

Publisher DOI:





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