"Any way the wind blows" - Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody
I recently read an interesting book by Irvin D. Yalom, “Becoming Myself”. The book is a memoire by the author, a renowned Stanford psychiatrist and author of both fiction and non-fiction. The book covers a broad range of topics in brief chapters, ranging from his youth, his reflections on his field and craft, reflections on books he has written, his life and marriage, and on growing old. It’s a good read that I would recommend.
While the book does not cover international relations or development, it did trigger me to think again about the links. From my time working in conflict areas, I’ve long felt that psychology and psychiatry are much ignored in politics, international relations, and development cooperation. I remember missions in the DRC, Liberia, and conflict areas of Indonesia and the Philippines where I would meet beneficiaries of a range of projects and it was clear that much more attention to the human, mental and psychological sides of conflict and poverty would be desirable. Also, the psychological impact of development and humanitarian aid is worth considering. What is it like to be vulnerable and dependent? How does one transfer out of such a situation mentally? The recent scandals such as the sexual exploitation (allegedly) by Oxfam staff in Haiti after the earthquake only highlight the importance of this.
During my studies in political science I remember having one course in political psychology. It was very interested, but very broad, covering everything from the psychology of politicians to voters. It’s not evident how to do so – clearly basic needs are a higher priority and other things (such as larger projects and public finances) are more ‘visible’ things to finance as a donor. Furthermore, the cultural dimension would be a big gap to close – how do you adapt very Western focused concepts to other settings? And finally, the impact would be difficult to demonstrate (and with aid and public policies these days we only want measurable output, preferably economically quantifiable.) But if questions such as radicalization, gender rights and family planning, or the drive to migrate by individuals are key things we want understand and influence, isn’t understanding the psychology of people critical? And Fanon already made the link decades ago...
Niamey, Niger, 27.02.2018