Jaleel Plummer

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

California, Berkeley, U. of

Grant number

Gr. 10622

Approve Date

September 29, 2023

Project Title

Plummer, Jaleel (California, Berkeley, U. of) "Between Affliction & Liberation: Obeah, Schizophrenia, & the Struggles of Black Postcolonial Subjectivity"

This project investigates how the Anglo-Caribbean spiritual tradition Obeah unfolds in British psychiatric settings in London, England. One-third of black schizophrenics say that their illness is Obeah-related. Furthermore, staff in London psychiatric hospitals claim to be bewitched by Obeah practitioners. Obeah is a criminalized, fragmented series of African diasporic rites intended to cause or avert harm through herbs, spiritual assistance, and bewitched charms. Social perceptions of Obeah vilify it as an “evil African witchcraft” that weaponizes a “terrorizing supernatural blackness” to cause harm. This perception potentially stems from British colonial imaginaries that couple Obeah with a terrorizing supernatural blackness, which becomes corporealized onto black Jamaican bodies through a racist gaze. Nevertheless, black Jamaicans continue to seek out Obeah, especially as an alternative to psychiatry. These phenomena occur in a context where black schizophrenics are disproportionately abused and killed by psychiatric staff and the police. The project addresses cases of Obeah-related schizophrenia and bewitched staff by paying ethnographic attention on Obeah rites. With 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork, the project asks: How does the practice of Obeah produces spaces intended for healing and imagining a black postcolonial subjectivity even as Obeah practitioners and black schizophrenics are racially stereotyped, vilified and abused?