Stephen McIsaac


Recipient of a Critical Theory Dissertation Fellowship, 2017-2018

Stephen McIsaac is a Ph.D. candidate in Medical Anthropology with a Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory at UC Berkeley. Writ large, his work addresses the cultural politics of knowledge, history, race, and subjectivity in the postcolony. His dissertation examines how the effects of postcolonial violence are rendered intelligible across different fields of inquiry, forms of life, and generations in contemporary South Africa. Taking psychiatric practice in one of the largest townships in South Africa as his primary field, he explores how violence becomes known as an object and a practice between and within psychiatric and ordinary worlds, considering how different forms of knowledge structure the demands, limits, and possibilities violence places on people and collectives. Drawing on a year and half of fieldwork, he examines how the shifting terrains of the therapist, the parent, and the child clash, creating an impasse in the legibility of violence and its effects, and ultimately puts in question when violence demands a response, and what form that response should take. His work demonstrates how psychiatric discourse and practice continues to be a crucial window into understanding larger questions of generation, race, space, violence, and history in post-apartheid South Africa.