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Macey, D. (2001). Fanon, politics and psychiatry: The North African syndrome. Free Associations, 8(3):463-484.

(2001). Free Associations, 8(3):463-484

Fanon, politics and psychiatry: The North African syndrome

David Macey

I don't really know how familiar you are with Fanon so, at risk of boring some of you, let me first run through the basic story (which is told in detail in Macey 2000).1 Frantz Fanon was born in 1925 in what was then the French colony of Martinique. He was born into a lower middle-class family — his father was a customs official and his mother kept a shop — that was both close-knit and upwardly mobile. There was nothing in his background to suggest what he would become. Although a somewhat turbulent child, he progressed quite steadily through the educational system but displayed no ambition to be either a psychiatrist or a revolutionary activist. He became both. In 1943, at which point Martinique was living under a strange tropical equivalent to the collaborationist Vichy regime in France, Fanon attempted to join the Free French forces based on the British-ruled island of Dominica, which is no more than twenty miles to the north of Martinique. That adventure ended in disappointment. In June 1943, the Vichy regime in Martinique fell and a year later Fanon did enlist — at the age of eighteen — in a volunteer unit. He fought with the French army in Eastern France, where he was both wounded and decorated for bravery. Ironically, he was actually decorated by Colonel Raoul Salan, who was to become one of the staunchest defenders of Algérie Française and a prime mover in the Algiers putsch against De Gaulle.

After the war, Fanon studied medicine and then psychiatry in metropolitan France, but his first real post was in Algeria. From 1953 to 1956, Fanon worked as a psychiatrist in the town of Blida, which is about fifty kilometres to the south of Algiers. He also became deeply committed to the Front de Libération Nationale, which launched its armed struggle for independence in November 1954.

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