Engerom’s Postdoc and Visiting Researcher Symposium

KUA i solskin

Thursday 1 June 2023, 13:15–16:15, South Campus, room 27.0.09.


13:15 Lisbeth Verstraete-Hansen and Robert Rix Introduction
13:20 Carl-Henrik Bjerström The Multiple Legacies of the Spanish Civil War in Revolutionary Cuba
13:35 Pradipto Roy COVID-19 and Mental Health in India (virtual participation)
13:50 Anna Iskra “What Never Happened.” Viral Absurdity and Affective Dysphoria in Pandemic-Era Shanghai (virtual participation)
14:05 Daria Schwalbe COVID-19 and mental health in Russia and the Arctic – emotional responses and psychological consequences
14:20 Felipe Szabzon COVID-19 and Mental Health in Colombia
14:40 Coffee Break


Alexander Knopf Günther Anders’ Aesthetics: Sensousness in the Technological World
15:15 Gabriel Abarca-Brown Transcultural Psychiatry in Latin America: A Historical and Anthropological Approach
15:30 Shilpi Rajpal The Mental Hygiene Movement; Birth of the Global Mental Health in India and Beyond
15:45 Irina Hron Writing (on) Human Skin


A wine reception in the Administration Hallway (24.2) will follow after the programme,


Carl-Henrik Bjerstrom: The Multiple Legacies of the Spanish Civil War in Revolutionary Cuba

In this talk I will present some of the results of my recent research on Cuban volunteers in the Spanish Civil War, focusing on a couple of figures who had an important impact on the radical politics of the Circum-Caribbean at the beginning of the Cold War. There is a relatively extensive historiography on Cuban involvement in the Spanish conflict during the war years (1936-1939), but little research has been done on the multiple ways in which the legacy of the war was present in Caribbean leftist politics long after the battle for Spain had ended. As this talk will demonstrate, Cuban politics offered several opportunities for veterans of the Spanish Civil War to remobilize after their time in Spain and prolong their commitments to radical transnational or internationalist projects. In this sense, the legacy of the Spanish Civil War continued to be present in Cuba both practically and symbolically, although the exact meaning of this legacy was continually contested.

Pradipto Roy: COVID-19 and Mental Health in India (virtual participation)

This working paper problematizes the concerns relating to mental health in south Asia during the pandemic. Going through various professional and lay journals, social media write ups, select books and newspaper reviews and so, this paper charts the discourses and priorities regarding mental health as had surfaced during the pandemic. The literature review is being complemented with perspectives from the fieldwork that was conducted in India and Bangladesh. In conclusion, I argue the need for inclusion of more interdisciplinary perspectives (especially from the humanities) in the practice of biomedical psychiatry, and why and how cross-cultural psychiatry could offer more in terms of building sustainable public mental health care approaches in the region.

Anna Iskra: “What Never Happened.” Viral Absurdity and Affective Dysphoria in Pandemic-Era Shanghai (virtual participation)

At the height of the pandemic in China, local mental health services providers had their hands full. In this talk, we will journey through the affective landscapes of Shanghai’s middle-class urbanites, as narrated by local psychological counselors who operate in the country’s vibrant and loosely regulated therapeutic milieu. Pandemic policies hit Shanghai hard, which culminated in the infamous two-month lockdown. While the authorities managed to temporarily contain the spread of the virus, negative affects proliferated in the city with a truly viral force. As gloominess spread, state propaganda and official media circulated enthusiastic reports on fighting the pandemic with “positive energy” (zheng nengliang), generating dysphoric feelings among citizens mentally worn out by draconian pandemic policies. This study is an anthropological investigation into the frictions generated in the clash between state-constructed affective regimes that promote positive thinking and disseminate politics of hope and trust in the political status quo, and various tribes of “affective aliens” among Chinese urbanites that resist performative positivity by embodying gloominess. The accounts of psychological counselors contest the dominant narrative of pandemic-induced anxiety and depression as primarily marked by withdrawal and passivity. Instead, such affects can be re-imagined as modes of resilience under authoritarian policies that question the censoring impact of the politics of “positive energy.”

Daria Schwalbe: COVID-19 and mental health in Russia and the Arctic - emotional responses and psychological consequences

It has been repeatedly pointed out that the long-term psychological consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic might still be underway, as the massive and complicated nexus of emotions and pain is only beginning to be understood. In this talk I will focus on people’s emotional responses to the pandemic and the psychological consequences it entailed in Greenland and Russia, scrutinizing the role of culture and context for mental health in Greenland, and the meaning and function of ‘anxiety’ in Russia, as it comes to the fore in textual and visual representations and the unique vocabularies of anxiety that have emerged in the context of the pandemic.

Felipe Szabzon: COVID-19 and Mental Health in Colombia

I am returning from a 6-month fieldwork in Colombia as part of my research at the “Covid-19 and global mental health” project. During this time, I had the opportunity to talk to various people working with mental health in the country, from policymakers at all levels of public administration to practitioners of various disciplines, academics, activists and patients and family organizations. As in many parts of the globe, in Colombia mental health has gained increased visibility since the emergence of the pandemic of the COVID-19. The public recognition of this topic has pressed local authorities to create innovative responses creating a panacea of interventions across the country with oftentimes contradictory conceptions and understandings about mental health. At the same time, the country is now under an intense debate about the implementation of a major health reform, to which mental health has remained silent. In this talk, I will present the initial findings of this fieldwork and reflect on the main roadblocks to mental healthcare policy and potential paths for advocacy within the health reform debate.

Alexander Knopf: Günther Anders’s Aesthetics: Sensousness in the Technological World

Günther Anders (1902-1992) became known for his pioneering philosophical works on technology and, in particular, his two-volume book The Obsolescence of Man (1956/1980). In this talk, I will argue that Anders aimed at a theory of experience just as Walter Benjamin had called for in his text “On the program of future philosophy” from 1917. However, unlike Benjamin had envisioned, Anders took human sensuousness as a starting point. According to Anders, the impact of technology on all sensual faculties such as perception, emotions and the imagination changes experiences entirely and dramatically. In his writings, though, Anders did not limit himself to the realm of theory. With his aesthetics, as I term this approach, he rather experimented with literary strategies to counter the effects of technology. He combined, so to say, reflection and performativity in order to facilitate a new experience through reading.

Gabriel Abarca-Brown: Transcultural Psychiatry in Latin America: A Historical and Anthropological Approach

I focus on the findings of two research projects in medical anthropology and the history of transcultural psychiatry. In the first project, I investigated how new discourses on migration, multiculturalism, and mental health have risen in post-dictatorship neoliberal Chile (1990-2019). Specifically, I explore the interactions between health and social institutions, mental health practitioners, “psy” technologies, and Haitian and Dominican migrants, highlighting migrants’ subjectivation processes and everyday life. In the second one, I examined the historical and anthropological roots of mental health practitioners’ structural based-approach in their work with migrants. I show how this approach resulted from a public health and community psychiatry tradition in Chile -and Latin America- whose roots lie in health policies developed during the reformist governments of the 1960s and 1970s, as well as in multicultural and gender policies promoted by the state since the 1990s.

Shilpi Rajpal: The Mental Hygiene Movement; Birth of the Global Mental Health in India and Beyond

This paper will investigate an era when the mind sciences gained control and defined every aspect of the so-called ideal citizen. A novel taxonomy creating moralistic ideals, establishing rules and a utopian vision created a cultural program which attempted to preserve decaying imperialism and bourgeoning nationalism. The definition of ideal citizenship was also invented in the colonies. This paper is largely based on Quarterly Bulletin of the Indian Association for Mental Hygiene. The Indian Association was based in Calcutta besides had sub-committees in Delhi, Lahore, Shimla, Southern India and Ceylon. The notions of mental health were tied to controlling and guiding of emotions, habits, time and energy The psychiatrist was needed much like a priest in channelising the inner self. The selfhood was defined and managed through ‘courage’, ‘faith’ and ‘self-will’ which were regarded as cornerstones in mobilizing human energy.

Irina Hron: ‘Writing (on) Human Skin’

The aim of this paper is to explore the vital interplay of skin, the practice of writing/reading, and literature alongside the introduction of a new concept: skin writing. Most of what we know about skin today is still based upon medical and biophysical premises. Dermal phenomena, however, are grounded in the connection of biology, psychology, and cultural practices. This goes far beyond an empirical understanding of human skin, and instead ties in with the aesthetic idea in the Kantian sense. My presentation sets out to uncover a series of depictions of human skin which cannot be explored empirically, but only aesthetically.