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Undoing the ‘Madwoman’: A Minor History of Uselessness, Dementia and Indenture in Colonial Fiji

Mishra, Margaret C. (2018) Undoing the ‘Madwoman’: A Minor History of Uselessness, Dementia and Indenture in Colonial Fiji. Journal of International Women's Studies, 19 (6). pp. 178-195. ISSN 1539-8706

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This article sets out to undo colonial constructions of the ‘madwoman’ in Fiji during the indenture period. It will critique how lunacy, or more specifically the condition of dementia, was sometimes presented as the colonial response to ‘uselessness’ in the sugarcane plantations. When archival fragments relating to an indentured woman named Dhurma, are retrieved and situated within a historical context they demonstrate how unproductivity was perceived as a signifier of an ‘unsound mind’ because it conflicted with the utilitarian logic of universal and individual economic advancement espoused by the British colonial administration. The article will also present brief accounts of other indentured women who were diagnosed with ‘dementia’ to illustrate how the ‘useless madwoman’ phenomena was not an isolated one. If the allegations of dementia presented here are reassessed in light of definitions of lunacy including the usage of this term in The English Lunacy Act of 1838, it may be possible to read against the dominant (male) voice in the asylum records and thus deconstruct murky projections of madness vis-a-vis colonialism.

Item Type: Journal Article
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Divisions: Faculty of Business and Economics (FBE) > School of Government, Development and International Affairs
Depositing User: Fulori Nainoca - Waqairagata
Date Deposited: 03 Sep 2018 03:37
Last Modified: 03 Sep 2018 03:37

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