Becoming a (neuro)migrant
: culture, race, class and gender in Santiago, Chile

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The arrival of Haitian and Dominican migrants to Chile has led to a series of frictions, conflicts and challenges both within the public health system, as well as in other key social organisations that seek to assist migrants, most notably churches and non-governmental organisations. Based on a multi-site ethnography carried out over 14 months in a borough of north Santiago, I seek to interrogate how new discourses relating to migration, multiculturalism and mental health have taken shape in a post-dictatorship neoliberal Chile from 1990 to the present. Specifically, I explore how, through the introduction of health reforms since the 1990s and the subsequent global mental health (GMH) agenda, biomedicine and psy/neuro technologies have impacted and shaped afro-descendant migrants’ subjectivities and everyday lives. Bringing together contributions from anthropology, sociology, science and technology studies, psychoanalysis and feminist theory, I argue that there are multiple forms of becoming a (neuro)migrant in a post-dictatorship neoliberal Chile. Through the negotiation, assimilation, resistance, and refusal of biomedical and psychiatric interventions, migrants engage in heterogeneous subjectivation processes that both affirm and challenge normative values of integration into Chilean society. Thus, these subjectivation processes reveal that psy/neuro technologies challenge migrants' representations of themselves, their malaise and suffering, as well as their mental health. Besides, these processes also reveal how Haitians and Dominicans develop individual, family and community coping strategies to address their afflictions in spaces such as neighbourhoods and churches mainly. I also show that although local initiatives in multiculturalism have encouraged health practitioners to reconsider their practices and values reflexively, they have tended to racialise the notion of “cultural difference” and abnormality/madness. Practitioners have usually reduced migrants’ malaise and suffering to a neurobiological level, neglecting the ethnic and contextual aspects involved. Through this, they reproduce and reinforce a conception of afflictions based on a biosocial determinism framed in what some researchers have called neuroscience of poverty.
Date of Award1 Feb 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorDominique Behague (Supervisor) & Anne Pollock (Supervisor)

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