The lives of Kenya’s White insane
Author: Will Jackson

Kenya Colony, for the British at least, has customarily been imagined as a place of wealthy settler-farmers, sun-lit panoramas and the adventure of safari. Yet for the majority of Europeans who went there life was very different. This book offers an unprecedented new account of what was – supposedly – the most picturesque of Britain’s colonies overseas. While Kenya’s romantic reputation has served to perpetuate the notion that Europeans enjoyed untroubled command, what the lives of Kenya’s white insane powerfully describe are stories of conflict, immiseration, estrangement and despair. Crucially, Europeans who became impoverished in Kenya or who transgressed the boundary lines separating colonizer from colonized subverted the myth that Europeans enjoyed a natural right to rule. Because a deviation from the settler ideal was politically problematic, therefore, Europeans who failed to conform to the collective self-image were customarily absented, from the colony itself in the first instance and latterly from both popular and scholarly historical accounts. Bringing into view the lives of Kenya’s white insane makes for an imaginative and intellectual engagement with realms of human history that, so colonial ideologies would have us believe, simply were not there. Tracing the pathways that led an individual to the hospital gates, meanwhile, shows up the complex interplay between madness and marginality in a society for which deviance was never intended to be managed but comprehensively denied.

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Will Jackson
in Madness and marginality
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Deviant psychology in Kenya Colony
Will Jackson

This chapter traces the cultural and social history of mental illness in the settler imagination. It investigates the idea of Africa as a site of madness and considers the relationship between degeneracy and deviance. These themes were not incidental to settler culture but major recursive tropes. The European mentally ill in Kenya were certainly marginal but madness and transgression were not.

in Madness and marginality
Class, gender and the licensing of transgression
Will Jackson

This chapter traces the social history of deviance amongst Europeans in colonial Kenya. In order to contain deviance within manageable bounds, it argues, a practical project of social control was combined with a discursive neutralisation of what might otherwise bring colonial rule into disre¬pute. Combining attention to cultural production with analysis of social control mechanisms reveals the salience of gender and class in the protection of a salutary white settler identity. The chapter approaches critically Kenya’s outstanding reputation as a place of colonial eccentricity. It reconstructs that reputation within a narrative that highlights the changing nature of colonial society through a history of the treatment – by state and society – of deviants themselves.

in Madness and marginality
Will Jackson

This chapter introduces the case files pertaining to Kenya Colony’s ‘white insane’ on which the book is based. It approaches the methodological challenges of utilising patient case files as historical sources and uses a number of individuated case studies to consider their value and the ways they might be read. The chapter also begins the identification of common themes and contemplates the correlation between the ‘white insane’ and the ‘poor white’.

in Madness and marginality
The colonial family
Will Jackson

This chapter constructs a social history of settler Kenya through the prism of the colonial family. Embedding the lives of the mentally ill within a critical account of the family and the home in settler culture, the chapter aims to place one of the most powerful symbols of the settler colony in new relief. The chapter also adds depth and texture to the intersecting themes of gender and class that in Kenya underpinned the myth of a ‘European race’.

in Madness and marginality
Sex and mental illness
Will Jackson

This chapter approaches the question of deviance and mental illness through one of the most contentious aspects of colonial history: sex. Starting from the premise that inter-racial sex presents the most likely site at which to uncover an interrelationship between psychiatric confinement and racial transgression, the chapter pursues a set of case histories in which sex figured prominently. The resulting analysis shows up the gendered nature of deviance in a colonial society as well as the ways by which psychiatry provided one diagnostic means to render such transgression safe.

in Madness and marginality
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Psychosis and transgression
Will Jackson

This chapter presents an intertextual account of colonial discourse and psychotic delusion. By ‘reading madness’, the chapter aims to show the intimate relationship between prevailing ‘white writing’ and the imagination of the ‘white insane’. Returning to the idea of Africa as a site of madness, the chapter considers Mau Mau in the delusional content of European psychiatric patients in order to develop an analysis of the salience of transgression and its denial for the European settler at a time of incipient decolonisation.

in Madness and marginality
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Will Jackson
in Madness and marginality