Is there a distinct social psychology of colonialism? Albert Memmi certainly thought so when he published The Coloniser and the Colonised in 1957. He was not the only one. Octave Mannoni's Prospero and Caliban had appeared in 1950, and Frantz Fanon's Black Skin, White Masks in 1952. And while Memmi had mixed feelings about Fanon, and Fanon had bitterly attacked Mannoni for his theory of colonial dependency, they shared an emphasis on the colonial relation which implied an attention to the mind of the coloniser as well as to the predicament of the colonised. In this, all three writers anticipated post-colonial theorists' understanding of colonialism, not only as an economic and political system, but as a psychic one too. And despite their differences, each believed that there was something pathological about that system. All three were Francophone writers, drawing on their varied experiences of French colonialism. Mannoni had served in the colonial service in Madagascar; Fanon was born in a French colony, Martinique, and spent much of his adult life in French North Africa; Memmi was born in the Jewish ghetto in Tunis, and now lives in Paris. Their writing contrasts markedly with its Anglophone equivalents, such as J.C. Carothers's The African Mind in Health and Disease (1953); the British version of the psychology of colonialism in Africa paid little or no attention to the experience of the coloniser, focusing instead on the question of native psychopathology. The relationship between coloniser and colonised was not their concern.
LRB 23 March 2006 | PDF Download