392 Cohen Hall
“Specters of Justice: Mental Health and Terror in Cold War Argentina”
In the 1970s, a young generation of psychoanalysts in Argentina attempted to forge “a new science” that would liberate the oppressed classes in Latin America. These practitioners connected political revolution to psychological liberation and imagined mental health as a site where broader visions of justice, from Marxism to decolonization and human rights, could be transformed through experiences of care, intimacy, and love. However, their diverse dreams of a more just mental health were crushed by the rise of the violent dictatorship of General Jorge Videla in 1976. With support from the United States, Videla’s regime “disappeared” citizens through imprisonment, torture, and murder to stem the tide of Communism. Military officials labeled Freud and Marx “ideological criminals,” and activist-practitioners were murdered, forced into exile, or driven to abandon their revolutionary politics out of fear.
This talk resurrects these visions of justice from the terror that attempted to erase them from history. Looking beyond public archives, I explore sources from the personal, domestic spaces of practitioners themselves, who tucked away papers in basements and bedrooms in the 1970s for fear that their beloved documents would make them victims of the military’s terror. In digging up the material traces of their political dreams, my work recovers the spirit of liberation that continues to haunt mental health activism in Argentina today. The power of liberation, I suggest, is not simply the provision of aid in dark times, but the ability to present an otherwise, to enact alternative political worlds that have exceeded those imposed by the violence of authoritarianism in the 1970s and by neoliberal democracy today.