Stephen McIsaac


Stephen McIsaacRecipient 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. Grounded in critical studies of medicine and science, postcolonial theory, and theories of violence and subjectivity, his work explores emerging therapeutic experiments in South Africa that attempt to care for the psychic and structural afterlives of apartheid. In the past decade, researchers have shown how “non-severe” mental illness – such as depression, stress, and anxiety – are some of the larger contributors to the global burden of disease, especially in “developing” countries. His dissertation, The Madness that Sees: Psychiatry, Violence and History in South Africa, takes up this concern through and ethnographic and historical examination of different forms of psychiatric care among racialized communities in post-apartheid Cape Town. Based on twenty months of fieldwork in community mental health in one of the country’s largest townships, his dissertation explores the collision between colonial legacies in South African psychiatry and emerging political therapeutics that imagine and practice redress in the present. Throughout, his work shows how the post-colonial psychiatric clinic is a microcosm of the political, where the force of historical violence articulates with contemporary forms of life and the emerging social and economic regimes of our time.