Interview With Lamia Moghnieh

The next few months we’ll be highlighting authors who have published in Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry.

Lamia Moghnieh (Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Copenhagen) is an anthropologist and mental health practitioner. Her research looks at the impact of psychiatry on understandings of self and illness in postcolonial and postconflict societies of the MENA/SWANA. She is interested in exploring the relationship between psychiatry and subject formation in the context of global mental health and patient subjectivities.

What is your article “The Broken Promise of Institutional Psychiatry: Sexuality, Women and Mental Illness in 1950s Lebanon” about?

I am an anthropologist, psychologist, and a social worker, and more recently, I am also a patient of analytical therapy. I try to let my research be informed from all of these positionalities together or provide insights from all of these places (as a researcher, practitioner and from the more intimate and vulnerable position of being a patient). I work in the field of mental health, and I do research on the histories and ethnographies of psychiatry, tracing various discourses on mental health from the Middle East and North Africa/ Southwest Asia and North Africa). I am currently writing my book manuscript provisionally entitled “Psychiatric Afterlives: Narrating Illness, Gender and Violence in Lebanon”. The book builds on multi-disciplinary frameworks from medical humanities to examine the role of psychiatric expertise in shaping patient and social imaginaries of madness and violence in Lebanon.

What drew you to this project?

I always wanted to be a clinical psychologist until I enrolled in the MAPSS program (Masters’ in the Social Sciences) at the university of Chicago. There, I was introduced to the various historical, philosophical and political critiques of psychology and I was drawn to medical anthropology. After I finished my PhD, which focused on trauma, humanitarianism and the politics of suffering in Lebanon, I was interested in learning more about the history of psychiatry in Lebanon and the region. My background and research interests are interdisciplinary. I am lucky to be in an academic position (at the upcoming research center “Culture and the Mind” head by Ana Antić at the University of Copenhagen) that welcomes and values this interdisciplinarity in the study of psy disciplines.

What was one of the most interesting findings?

One of the findings that interest me is the ways in which the family acts as an equal diagnoser of mental illness to psychiatric expertise. As shown in the article, the story of Hala invites more attention to the ways in which women (and maybe non-normative persons) become chronically institutionalized by institutional psychiatry and the family. This is not to dismiss the psychological and financial effects that mental illness might have on family members. The article rather approaches the family as a sociological unit that governs and defines normality, and is interested in the dialogue, tensions and challenges of care and normality between the family and institutional psychiatry, as shown in the story of Hala.

What are you reading, listening to, and/or watching right now?

Audre Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name
Roberto Bolaño’s Cowboy Graves
سارة اب وغزال “احلمي يا سيدي
هلال شومان “حزن في قلبي
Couch Fiction: A Graphic Tale of Psychotherapy
Jonathan Sadowsky’s Empire of Depression: A New History

If there was one takeaway or action point you hope people will get from your work, what would it be?

That psychiatry is both a form of governance and a mode of healing whose authority and reach transforms and changes over time. That patient voices and narratives are a crucial part of the history of psychiatry and of its contemporary practices. And that medical humanities, including anthropology, is a field that can offer useful and critical insights on the status of global mental health.

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