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1The following is a follow-up to the paper published in the previous issue of the Revue du Mauss, which accompanied the reissue of a text from 1947–1948 by Octave Mannoni entitled “Gift giving, dependency, and recognition,” which consisted of excerpts from his 1950 Psychology of Colonization. My own paper is entitled “Octave Mannoni (1899–1989) and his Psychology of Colonization: Contextualization and Decontextualization.” The first part of my study was devoted to the contextualization of Mannoni’s text, of his writing, and of how it was received. I have attempted to return as thoroughly as possible to the arguments put forward by Mannoni and to the reactions they generated, the context of the author’s personal history, and the historical context of their publication, namely the 1947 Malagasy rebellion, its suppression by colonial forces, and more generally, the beginning of the decolonization process. The second part of the study, which appears here, now aims to decontextualize Mannoni’s themes, that is, to explain their generality and heuristics in different configurations from those that gave way to them. To read Mannoni with the required hindsight, that is, after ridding oneself through this first effort at contextualizing the misinterpretations of his work and the false accusations leveled against him, which were many, one cannot help but be struck not only by the strictly theoretical value of his theories for the dialogue between the social sciences and psychoanalysis but also by how highly relevant they remain for pondering the issues of the day, namely those of a postcolonial society where the question of interethnic relations, born out of the “colonial situation,” to use Mannoni’s expression, has moved, via immigration, into the heart of the former colonizing societies.

2In his overview of the previous issue of the Revue du Mauss, Alain Caillé introduced Mannoni’s text by bringing up its quality of “being dated by vocabulary and tone” as well as its political incorrectness. I agree with the first evaluation as much as I reject the second. First of all, the notion of “political incorrectness” was absent in 1950. But mostly, it would be a mistake to believe that the text was written for the purpose of shocking, as in the realm of political incorrectness. Undoubtedly, as I demonstrate in my study, the text was provocative and shocking at the time. It was even shocking to those Mannoni would have liked to persuade, such as Frantz Fanon and Aimé Césaire, and this was clearly distressing to him. Yet it would be a mistake to believe, as I also show, that the line of opposition in the debate over Mannoni separated the pro-colonial from the anti-colonial. In fact, it played out within the anti-colonial movement to which Mannoni belonged beyond the shadow of a doubt, contrary to what some still suggest today, either out of ignorance or bad faith.

3The response to Mannoni’s theories brought to light two fault lines in the anti-colonial movement of the 1950s. The first, which is political by nature, pitted the Communists against the non- Communists, and the second, which is emotional by nature, pitted the “whites” (Mannoni, Domenach, Jeanson) against the “blacks” (Césaire, Fanon). Setting aside the first conflict for the moment in order to focus only on what was shocking, which is to say what has to do with the emotional reaction, it is this second fault line that deserves our attention because it is the source of the “politically incorrect” aspect that might be perceived in Mannoni’s work today.

4In the second part of my paper, I highlight the genuine shock that came over Fanon—who maintained a friendly relationship with Mannoni—when he read the latter’s work, a shock that led to dumbfounding misinterpretations of the text. Césaire’s criticism was more ambiguous because, we should recall, it is not merely the poet of negritude who wrote the famous 1950 Speech on Colonialism[3] but also the Communist member of parliament, and while he did criticize Mannoni, it was not only because of the colonial issue but also because the Communist Party had just rejected psychoanalysis as a “bourgeois science.” Nevertheless, Fanon and Césaire clearly felt offended in their “negritude” by Mannoni’s text, and sixty years later, what offended them is may still make the reader feel uncomfortable. As Mannoni himself said, though he never disowned his work, this malaise should be taken seriously.

5We must therefore return to the heart of Mannoni’s argument, which I will summarize here in a few sentences. For him, humanity is unquestionably one in its fundamental psycho-emotional structure, as evidenced by the universality of the Oedipus complex. On this basis, however, two symmetrical modes of resolution are possible. The first, which is characteristic of the western psyche, was brought to light by Adler under the term “inferiority complex,” and the second, which Mannoni intends to demonstrate from an analysis of the Malagasy psychology but which, he suggests, can also be found in all “primitive” societies, he calls the “dependency complex.” Drawing his inspiration from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Mannoni characterizes these two types of psyches by the conflicting figures of Prospero, the master, and Caliban, the slave. We must keep in mind that these are two “normal” psyches, which structure not only the individual conscience but also the social order in every type of society. Dependency is not primarily what links the colonized to the colonizer. Rather, it is internal to traditional societies and characteristic of the symbolic relationship between the living and their ancestors. The colonial issue occurs through the meeting of these two psyches, which are interlocked in the colonial relationship, with Mannoni describes as perverse. According to him, the colonizer takes the place of the ancestor in the dependency complex that characterizes the psyche of the ordinary Malagasy individual (or of the “primitive” in general). Dependency then becomes pathological not only for the colonized but also, and to at least the same degree, for the colonizer, who must free himself of this relationship of dependency (“the decolonization of myself,” as Mannoni himself would say).

6When he was writing, Mannoni sensed that this colonial relationship was exploding, and he describes this explosion as something he desired. However, he was aware that a simple change of an official political nature (namely, institutional decolonization) would not suffice to settle the colonial issue, which belonged to what we might term, by combining Freud and Durkheim as specifically permitted by Mannoni’s text, the “collective unconscious” of the colonizers (or former colonizers) and the colonized (or former colonized). Yet it is precisely on this point that his analysis was intolerable to those who, out of a “colonized” identity (the “blacks” I mentioned earlier), were fighting against colonialism because this analysis restricted them, not substantially, as Mannoni was unfairly accused of doing, but practically, from the normal outlook of a life, to a state of “dependency.” In subsequent comments, Mannoni showed that he understood this trap. Yet despite its accuracy, his analysis was in some respects contrary to the cause it was intended to defend because it was discouraging for those who were leading the fight on the political front but also inside themselves in their self-affirmation, driven by Césaire’s theme of negritude. By reacting in such a way, thinkers such as Fanon and Césaire were paradoxically agreeing with Mannoni, and they were sharp enough to be aware of this, which only served to reinforce the tension.

7At the opposite end of Mannoni’s argument was a whole other theoretical arsenal, namely the Stalinist Marxist argument. Colonialism, in this scenario, was a matter of economic exploitation. As previously explained by Rosa Luxemburg and Lenin, it was the product of capitalist development, of which imperialism was the highest stage (Lenin). What had been produced by the development of productive forces and the political structures that resulted from them (the imperialist state) could and should be reversed in the same way, that is, through the joint struggle of the oppressed classes in what was not yet called the North and the South. Of course, this was not easy to articulate on a practical level, as evidenced by the difficulties encountered by the Communist Party at the time of decolonization, but such a representation of things was symbolically reassuring. The salvation of colonized peoples lay in political independence accompanied by the establishment of a socialist system of production as this would remove capitalist exploitation in general and colonial overexploitation in particular simultaneously.

8Without attempting to summarize fifty years of post-colonial history here, we cannot avoid the conclusion that there was a basis for Mannoni’s doubts. Not only could capitalist exploitation be reproduced in the new decolonized nations, but overexploitation of the descendants of colonized people, who would now become immigrants, could be perpetuated on the very territory of the former colonial powers, just as the abolition of slavery after the Civil War did not eliminate racial discrimination in the United States. Mannoni was right, but as he was well aware, one is not necessarily right to be right!

9Like many others, Mannoni collided head-on with the Communist Party, of which he was a fellow traveler in the late 1940s. But mostly, via psychoanalysis, he encountered epistemological limits to Marxist theory, at least in its Stalinist version. Although he did not deny the existence of economic exploitation in the colonial relationship, he felt that it was not primary, that the overexploitation of “blacks” did not possess in itself any economic rationality and that it could only be understood by highlighting a deeper source of domination to which could be added the desire for maximum profit. For Mannoni, what drove the white man to conquer the world and the colonialism that came about as a result was not for the most part the economic pursuit of profit. This passion for gain was only a manifestation of a broader psyche, that of Prospero, the conqueror, driven by the desire to surpass the father, that is, by an Adlerian inferiority complex. In this respect, Mannoni’s theory agrees with that of Max Weber in his demonstration of a psychological framework (the Weberian ethos) that may explain historical development. That was a lot to chew over for a social science wishing to integrate psychoanalysis in its theoretical development!

10The Mannoni dossier, which I have tried to present in the most comprehensive way possible, thus has a tragic dimension, which can be read in the fate of authors who were in conflict with each other (Mannoni, Césaire, Fanon), but also in our collective history. The way in which the postcolonial issue is resurfacing today is a testimony to that effect. Certainly, the colonial issue is a good subject for testing the relevance of the intersection of the social sciences and psychoanalysis, not only because the study of “primitive” man is at the source of anthropology but also because, as stated by Pierre Pachet in his penetrating analysis of Mannoni which I quote below in this paper, “As terrible as it is, and precisely for that reason, colonial violence has something familial about it.”

11This is also why Mannoni’s theory of dependency should not be confined to the field of interethnic relations. In this regard, as I emphasize in this study, ethnographic criticism, such as that leveled against Mannoni’s theory by Maurice Bloch, must be rejected. Perhaps Mannoni misinterpreted the behavior of his tennis coach Merina and the behavior of the Malagasy people in general. It has even been argued that Malinowski misunderstood the meaning of kula in his famous 1922 study of the Trobriand Islands, which inspired Mauss’s theory of gift giving. In both cases, I lack the skills to be the judge. But the essence of a theory is to produce a heuristic that exceeds the field of its genesis, and this seems to be the case with Mannoni’s theory, just like Mauss’s, in fact, both of which I see as being more complementary than they are contradictory, contrary to what Alain Caillé suggests in his above-mentioned introduction.

12Let us consider, for the sake of persuasion, the issue of gender relations, which are so often closely linked to the colonial issue. Here also, what is at play is an intermingling of the personal and the social, the economic and the symbolic, gift giving and dependency. Here again, a sectarian Marxist perspective reaches its limits, for how is it possible to reduce relations between the sexes to simple economic exchanges despite the indisputable role played by economics in the area of the family in the strict sense of the term? This brings us back to the story behind the writing of Mannoni’s Psychology of Colonization. After reading the first part of my study of the genesis of this book, it becomes possible, without running the risk of being led astray into a summary psychoanalysis, to become persuaded that in this beautiful book, Mannoni was telling the story of a double split: with his Malagasy life on the one hand, and with his first wife on the other. Hence, probably, the particular strength of this work, which reveals the most intimate aspects of its author.

13The publication of the second part of this study in this issue of the Revue du Mauss is welcome because Mannoni talks about emancipation. On one level, the one retained at the time by Fanon and Césaire, his arguments are negative, even discouraging, because he tells us that complete emancipation is impossible. But this is the combined message of psychoanalysis and sociology, of Freud and Durkheim. Taking due note of it is not to give up freedom but rather to give up the childish fantasy of omnipotence or the utopia of a society without order. Sociology and psychoanalysis can both help us advance on the path of true freedom based on the recognition of the existence of the world, both socially and psychologically, its structured nature, and the limitations it imposes on the will and on desires. Between the scientistic reductionism that can be found among some psychologists as well as some sociologists and the denial of the existence of any structure or any law, which are placed in the category of an easily reversible artificiality, there is room for the concept of a psychological and social world that is open to the development of both subjects and societies.

From Fanon’s Critique to a Durkheimian-Maussian Interpretation of Mannoni

14In 1952, Frantz Fanon threw himself into the debate, with the weight of two important arguments: he was a black man, and he was a psychiatrist. He devoted an entire chapter of Peau noire, masques blancs (Black Skin, White Masks) to a critique of “the alleged dependency complex of the colonized.” From the very introduction, he announces that his book is a response to Mannoni’s work.


In the fourth chapter, I criticize a work which, in my opinion, is dangerous. And the author, Mr. Mannoni, is actually aware of the ambiguity of his position. This is perhaps one of the merits of his testimony. He tried to represent a situation. We have the right to declare that we are not satisfied. We have a duty to show the author how we differ from his position. [4]

16The sincerity of Fanon’s criticism is not subject to doubt, and some arguments ring true, as when he criticizes Mannoni for his fairly arbitrary interpretation of dreams he collected among young Malagasy while ignoring the atmosphere of violence that existed at the time. [5] However, the extent to which he misinterprets Mannoni’s text is surprising. To quote a passage:


However, we find ourselves in conflict with him [Mannoni] when we read this sentence: “The fact that an adult Malagasy isolated in another environment can become sensitive to conventional inferiority proves in a virtually irrefutable manner that ever since his childhood, there was in him a seed of inferiority.” In reading this passage, we can feel something being turned upside down, and the “objectivity” of the author runs the risk of being misleading. [6]

18While this passage may, if taken out of context, seem to indicate an inferiority native to Malagasy individuals in the standard sense of the term, for a careful reader of Mannoni’s work it, has an entirely different meaning. Shedding light on Fanon’s confusion can help us present the bulk of Mannoni’s theory.

19In fact, far from asserting an inferiority complex native to Malagasy individuals, this brief passage is paradoxically doubly non-racist. We must understand that the “conventional inferiority” mentioned here refers back, in his terms, not to the typical psychology of the Malagasy but rather to the psychology of the European, which is marked by the inferiority complex exposed by Alfred Adler. [7] For Mannoni, this psychology, which is characteristic of Europeans (the “Prospero complex”) is different from the typical Malagasy psychology (or, more generally, that of all “uncivilized” peoples), [8] which is based on the symmetrical complex of dependency (the “Caliban complex”). In addition, the fact that Mannoni refers in the quoted passage to the possibility that the Malagasy feels an Adlerian sense of inferiority, that is, a complex that is typical not of his own civilization but of European civilization, shows that in no way does he view individuals as subject to cultural and therefore racial determinism. For him, an inferiority complex and a dependency complex are two competing forms of liquidation of the Oedipus complex. However, these complexes are not in themselves pathologies because they structure “normal” personalities, in the West and in Madagascar, respectively. This is also why we can find an expression of the inferiority complex among Malagasy people (something Mannoni states in the passage denounced by Fanon), just as we can find an expression of the dependency complex among Europeans.

20Therefore, the explanation for the difference in the psychological structures of Malagasy and European people has a sociological basis. It is in the process of socialization that the standard psychologies of dependency for the Malagasy and inferiority for the Europeans are structured. Mannoni explains these two structures by way of an anthropological base whose origins are found in religious concepts. In Madagascar, the child has no need to rebel against the father since power is embodied not in the living but in the dead. This deep connection linking the living and the dead in a seamless social fabric is presumably the cause of the dependency complex, as society members do not have to earn their place in society since they have it from the start. Colonial history thus becomes a meeting between the inferiority complex and the dependency complex, both of which, in Mannoni’s work, are embodied in the characters of Shakespeare’s The Tempest: Prospero the white man, and Caliban the savage. Based on the notion of transfer in the psychoanalytic sense, the Malagasy transferred onto the Europeans their traditional relationship of dependency with ancestors, and the Europeans in turn took advantage of that psychic availability on the part of the natives to satisfy their desire for power, born out of their inferiority complex. [9]

21What was intolerable to Césaire and Fanon about this theory was the idea of a predisposition to colonial subjugation on the part of the colonized. The theory is of course disturbing, but in Mannoni’s work, it has no racial or even culturalist basis since it can only be conceived as part of an inter-psychology. In fact, Césaire and Fanon covertly go from the concept of predisposition to that of predestination. Dependency on the colonizer only occurred because the colonizer arrived, which was not part of the destiny of “primitive” societies, unless one is thinking in terms of a strange providentialist historical teleology. Finally, and Fanon conceded this point to Mannoni, [10] the cultural predisposition to submission on the part of the Malagasy, or more generally, the “uncivilized,” is symmetrical to the Europeans’ cultural predisposition to domination. Yet even today, anti-colonial authors are willing to adopt the second argument while rejecting the first even though the two have the same epistemological basis. Why should it be legitimate to assume a spontaneous predisposition to domination on the part of the Europeans that emerged from their culture and was forged in their socialization and outrageous to imagine that other people have a spontaneous predisposition to dependency issuing from their own culture and forged in their own socialization?

22Here is where we probably run into the greatest limitation in Mannoni’s theory, which is linked to both an excess of modesty and an overly strong urge to demonstrate a point. Throughout the book, Mannoni can be seen hesitating between a sociography of the Malagasy people and a desire to extend a generalization to all “uncivilized” peoples. In fact, just beneath the surface of the psychoanalytic argument there is always an anthropology of Durkheimian inspiration to be found and, as seen in the passage reproduced in the following paragraph, an inspiration drawn from Mentalité primitive (Primitive Mentality) by Lucien Lévy-Bruhl. [11] Rereading the book from a more explicitly Durkheimian perspective sheds light on it in a singular way and helps avoid false debates by highlighting, beyond the work’s specific historical context, its fundamental anthropological contribution. The two opposite poles Mannoni uses in patterns of dependency and inferiority via the figures of Caliban and Prospero are none other than the two major models of societies identified by Durkheim as early as his 1893 dissertation: those based on mechanical solidarity, where the individual merges with the social whole, and those based on organic solidarity, within which individualism develops, that is, in psychoanalytic terms, an Adlerian inferiority complex. This is why Mannoni so often refers to “primitivism,” using quotation marks each time.

23If readers are following my train of thought in this interpretation of Mannoni’s text, it must imperatively be decontextualized in order for them to grasp its fundamental anthropological contribution. [12] In this respect, Maurice Bloch’s recent criticism carries little weight. The very title of his article is a denial of justice, as it is clear that not only was Mannoni not defending colonialism but that his work in some ways levels the most virulent criticism against it because it is the most desperate. For confirmation, let us quote a passage from the book’s conclusion, in which Mannoni argues against the economic explanation of colonialism advocated by his Marxist friends:


Economics tells us how we try to dominate men in order to gain greater wealth. But it has little to say about someone who uses his economic superiority just for the fun of enslaving a man. And yet it is necessary to take into account this kind of pleasure when one wants to understand colonial economics as colonial. [13]

25Additionally, we cannot help but be stunned by Bloch’s ignorance of Mannoni’s working conditions when he wrote the book, though he means to remind English-speaking readers of the context. It is one thing for him to borrow from Tronchon and Boiteau the theme of the 100,000 deaths caused by colonial repression, but can we forgive this sentence from the author of a preface to Mannoni’s work: “The reader must not forget that this book comes from the pen of a Frenchman who later became the head of official information services in the colony!” [14] In fact, Mannoni held that position from February to September 1946, that is, before and not after the Malagasy rebellion. In addition, Bloch places the writing of the book in 1948 in Madagascar, while in fact it was probably begun in 1946 and, although it was completed in 1948, this occurred in Paris, where Mannoni had returned in the summer of 1947. I quote this second error because it is used by Bloch to support his erroneous theory on the book, which he claims was written “to account for the rebellion and its repression,” which then leads him to question the fact that Mannoni, “as he advances in his text, deviates from its primary concern,” which was to “initiate a broad reflection of a theoretical nature.” [15] Here again, the historical reality is the exact opposite since, inspired by his psychoanalysis with Lacan, Mannoni had started thinking about psychological colonial relations in the Malagasy context when the rebellion broke out, which he sought to interpret in terms of its pattern.

26If we are willing to move beyond these blatant untruths to get to the bottom of things, [16] Bloch’s critiques are twofold. First, he suggests that the explanation Mannoni provides for the rebellion was the one that suited the colonial authorities, and second, he claims that Mannoni was completely wrong about Malagasy psychology, particularly in his analysis of his main example, namely the behavior of his tennis coach Merina, but also in his interpretation of ancestor worship in Madagascar, which he mistook for an African model. [17]

27On the first point, it is clear that it is Bloch himself who lacks knowledge, of both the history of the Malagasy rebellion and the writing of Mannoni’s book. Without doubt, Mannoni’s theory according to which the rebellion was triggered precisely at the time when colonial rule had been relaxed due to unrest caused by World War II and the changes in political regimes in Madagascar (Government of Vichy, the British occupation from May 1942 to January 1943, and the return to French sovereignty under de Gaulle’s leadership) is disturbing in the context of anti-colonial rhetoric and could satisfy those supporting a return to the old order. It is nevertheless somewhat plausible as well as consistent with the general decolonization movement that started after World War II. Mostly, however, Mannoni never said that the return of the old order was desirable, or even that it was possible. Rather, he described, with the cold distance of an entomologist, a form of balance in a colonial situation in the process of collapsing. But what the radical anti-colonial activists could not forgive him for was that he had no illusions regarding what might result from a formal release from colonial rule:

28Left to their own devices, it is a feudal society the Malagasy people would try to reconstruct spontaneously and without even realizing it. They would name it a republic or a democracy, but their need for dependency would drive them almost inevitably to organize clients around bosses based on their own preference. [18]

29Domenach, who quotes this passage in his defense of Mannoni against Diop, only criticized his choice of adverb: “It is this almost inevitably that is a serious issue and that should have been more specific . . .” [19] However, he adds that,


Just because we want the liberation of colonial peoples does not mean that we should ignore the complex obstacles that hinder it. A simplistic approach, even if progressive, is harmful.

31Fifty years after decolonization, how is it possible to reject Domenach’s warning? At the time of its publication, Mannoni’s book could be seen, however mistakenly, as a defense of the colonial order in the name of the impossibility of its effective reversal. Mannoni admitted this much in his 1966 article: “I could see that it [my book] initiated certain doctrines that were useful, in fact, to the anti-colonial cause. It was unavoidable . . .” [20] Today, however, we do not have to repeat this story, to replay the roles of a scene that is no more. Instead, we can read this book in a different way. The colonial order could not survive, and Mannoni was the first to be convinced of that. However, its political abolition was not sufficient in his mind to resolve the issue he called “dependency.” It is this concept that requires our attention, which leads us to look at the second part of Bloch’s critique.

32Through the concept of “dependency,” Mannoni analyzes a perverted gift giving relationship in which reciprocity is impossible. Bloch responds by saying that Mannoni was completely deluded about the behavior of the young Malagasy who asked him for gifts and that this behavior was in fact a “normal,” reciprocal relationship of gift giving and that the young Malagasy expected Mannoni to ask him for gifts in turn as part of friendship. I lack the skills needed to settle this controversy. Perhaps Mannoni did misinterpret the situation (although Bloch’s argument from authority is not convincing). But the question is not as important as we might think. After all, all of anthropology was built on the basis of this type of creative misinterpretation. In fact, the case of the tennis coach Merina holds less importance in Mannoni’s analysis than the exploitation and reinterpretation of the corpus provided by Lévy-Bruhl. This observation also leads to dismissing Bloch’s criticism of Mannoni’s understanding of ancestor worship. Bloch claims that Mannoni’s book cannot be regarded as a work of scholarly anthropology of the Malagasy people. In fact, its purpose is the analysis of colonial relations, for the understanding of which he tries to build a theoretical apparatus he adapted using his own observations as well as the anthropological tradition and in particular the work of Lévy-Bruhl, which provided him with a rich body of examples. His approach is therefore steeped in theoretical anthropology, which aims to construct interpretive patterns from various materials, like the anthropology of Lévy-Bruhl, as mentioned earlier, but also, for example, the anthropology of Marcel Mauss.

33Under the term “dependency complex,” Mannoni undoubtedly reveals a type of observable social relationship, perhaps in Madagascar but elsewhere also, including in Europe. There is no racial ontology in its psychological categories. Rather, they are the product of social configurations, and, at the risk of offending G. Balandier, Mannoni could very well have entitled his book “The Sociology of Colonization.” The conceptual triptych consisting of gift giving, recognition, and dependency we see at work in the reproduced text cannot fail to interest readers of the Revue du Mauss. Mannoni’s whole model is based on the analysis of the perversion of gift giving produced by colonialism. I leave it to those more competent in this area than I am to translate Mannoni’s theory into the Maussian grammar of gift giving. However, I wish to emphasize that no one has done a better job than Mannoni at showing the perverse nature of the “gift of civilization” through which we now sometimes like to justify colonial history.

34Among the few contemporary comments on Mannoni’s psychology of colonization, we should mention the remarkably intelligent and acute analysis by philosopher and writer Pierre Pachet, who, in an article in La Quinzaine Littéraire, revisited the debate between Fanon and Mannoni. [21] Pachet correctly shows that Fanon’s position, which was radicalized in 1961 in Les damnés de la terre (The Wretched of the Earth), and especially in the preface Sartre wrote for this book, reaches a dead end. By characterizing colonialism as an “absolute wound,” Fanon is led almost despite himself to being able only to provide the counter-violence of the colonized as an answer to colonial violence:


Hence strange formulas, with slippery and elusive dialectic: “The violence of colonial rule and the counter-violence of the colonized balanced each other out and find symmetry with each other in an extraordinary reciprocal homogeneity.” [22]

36Pachet also shows how Mannoni, thanks to his psychoanalytic vigilance (“as a Freudian psychoanalyst, he knows that there is no such thing as total, ‘absolute’ independence”) called into question the simplistic claim of the anti-colonial movements, for which he was criticized so much because, as he later understood, he was calling into question the “doctrines useful . . . to the . . . anti-colonial cause” (see above). But as I already mentioned, in so doing, Mannoni had a head start because, unlike Fanon, for example, he could already consider the postcolonial situation:


To limit oneself to the claim and watchword of independence is to give preference to the old master relationship. It is wanting to be what he was, and given that that is obviously impossible, since if we became him, we would no longer be ourselves, and because that is precisely what he is, someone that is imitated, not someone who imitates, we arrive at the terrible aftermath of independence, and in particular at the complaint whereby that colonialism has been replaced by “neocolonialism,” a concept that appears clever but whose entire effort is to shift the blame for the failure of independence, a more devious situation than the old system had been and in a sense more crushing, more impossible to overturn. [23]

38Armed with such a psychoanalytic understanding of Mannoni’s text, Pachet manages, unlike most commentators, to decontextualize it in order to give it its universal dimension because, he argues,


An individual, in the modern sense of the term, is someone who is formed through conflicts over his identity and his emancipation, through the imitation of models and the rejection of these models, through denial of what we are, through dependence and independence. As terrible as it is, and precisely for that reason, colonial violence has something familial about it. [24]

40Pachet’s interpretation allows us to access what is really at stake in Mannoni’s text in the complex back-and-forth he develops between individual and collective psychic structures, such as between the universality of the human psyche and its various modes of implementation in different cultures. Thus Mannoni’s work leads us to reflect on the epistemological links that should be established between psychoanalysis and the social sciences. When he was writing, such a link appeared possible, even desirable, as evidenced by publishing initiatives such as the one by Psyché or the one by the Revue de Psychologie des Peuples, in which he took part. As we saw, Mannoni entered the world of psychoanalysis inspired by Durkheimian sociology. His career path and in a way the failure of his psychology of colonization led him to personally give up the social sciences. Yet his intellectual legacy leaves the question open.

41Let us evaluate the fact that when it comes to the concept of dependency, which has been widely disseminated in socioeconomic studies of post-colonial societies but which is also at the heart of the psychology of addictive practices. When reading Mannoni, it is easy to see that it is in fact the same concept, which aims in both cases to understand the perversion of attachment. It would be absurd to credit Mannoni with the sole authorship of this concept in its dual politico-economic and psychological sense. However, contrary to what Balandier stated in 1952, the term was not commonly used either in psychology or socioeconomics at the time of Mannoni’s writing. Throughout the 1950s, the term had a somewhat logical or mathematical meaning, expressing the necessary connection between two variables. It also had an institutional meaning, as in a given territory being a dependency of a given power. It was not until the late 1940s that the term took on a degree of psychological or political and economic meaning. When Pierre Bourdieu used it in 1959, he still put quotation marks around it and referred to Mannoni in a passage that is worth quoting:


In addition, simple giving (material assistance, distribution of food and clothing, etc.), which contrary to appearances requires less from the donor, runs the risk of establishing a relationship of “dependency,” which is the cause of stagnation for those who receive and of disappointment for those who give. [25]


43Mannoni’s book is clearly dated. It was written at a difficult time, for both its author and its subject, namely the era of colonial relations. For complex historical reasons, sixty years later, the wounds of colonization have still not healed. A decontextualized interpretation of this book is therefore necessary if we are to avoid fruitless misunderstandings and controversies. To that end, I attempted to provide all the available elements of the dossier. Yet Mannoni’s book is not only of historical interest. Rather, it develops a model that can help us understand various psychological and social configurations, well beyond colonial relationships, and it would be a pity to deprive ourselves of this contribution to the social sciences. I hope that upon reading the following pages, the reader will experience the same pleasure I did in their discovery.


  • [1]
    This paper is the second part and conclusion of François Vatin’s article published in the Revue du Mauss Semestrielle 37, 2011. The paper was published in its entirety in the digital version of the Revue du MAUSS.
  • [2]
    Octave Mannoni, Psychologie de la colonisation (Paris : Seuil, 1950) ; Prospero and Caliban : the psychology of colonization, with a new foreword by Maurice Bloch (University of Michigan Press, 1990).
  • [3]
    Aimé Césaire, Discours sur le colonialisme (Paris : Réclame, 1950): Discourses on Colonialism, (New-York : Monthly Review Press, 2000).
  • [4]
    Frantz Fanon, Peau noire, masques blancs (Paris: Seuil, 1952), reprinted (Paris: Seuil, 1971), 10 ; Black Skin, White Masks (New-York : Grove-Press, 2008).
  • [5]
    Yet Fanon exaggerates, for we cannot find fault with Mannoni for having represented the dreams of teenagers who actually experienced violence. It is likely that he collected these dreams among his young high school students in Antananarivo, who were never directly exposed to colonial repression but who surely reflected the atmosphere of violence in which they were immersed. All of this is to be ascribed to the traumatic context that, beyond the actual violence, surrounds the perception of events locally in Madagascar but also throughout the French Union, as J. Fremigacci (“La vérité sur la grande révolte de Madagascar”, L’Histoire, 318, March 2007) did such a good job of pointing out.
  • [6]
    F. Fanon, Peau noire, 68.
  • [7]
    Alfred Adler (1870–1937), an Austrian physician and psychotherapist, originally a disciple of Freud, from whom he quickly broke away. Mannoni quotes from his Le tempérament nerveux: Élément d’une psychologie individuelle et application à la psychothérapie (Paris: Payot, 1911/1926), reprinted in 1970. (The neurotic constitution; outlines of a comparative individualistic psychology and psychotherapy, New York: Books for Libraries Press, 1972).
  • [8]
    Mannoni constantly hesitates between a specific analysis of the Merina psychology and a wider analysis of all “primitive” populations. See below on this point.
  • [9]
    Mannoni supports this idea of a possible assimilation of whites to ancestors by referring to the “cargo cult” revealed in indigenous New Guinea by Lutheran pastor M.H.F. Hanneman in a paper that had just come out: “Le culte du cargo en Nouvelle-Guinée,” Le Monde Non-Chrétien 8 (1948): 937–962.
  • [10]
    “We can only agree with this part of Mr. Mannoni’s work, which tends to pathologize the conflict, that is, to demonstrate that the white colonizer is only driven by his desire to put an end to dissatisfaction in terms of Adlerian over-compensation” (Fanon, Peau noire, 68).
  • [11]
    Lucien Lévy-Bruhl (1857–1939), a sociologist and anthropologist and disciple of Durkheim. Mannoni quotes from his La mentalité primitive (Paris: Flammarion, 1922/2010; Primitive mentality New York: AMS Press, 1978). Let us recall that Mannoni himself was trained in Durkheimian sociology by Halbwachs in Strasbourg. Lévy-Bruhl’s anthropology of Durkheimian inspiration, along with Freudianism, is his major theoretical reference.
  • [12]
    At this point, the reader may poke fun at my remarks as I have just attempted the most erudite contextualization possible to conclude that the work should be, in fact, decontextualized. However, this re-contextualization was essential in order to deal with the issue of all the dross of history. This having been accomplished, I hope the reader can now assess on its own merit the anthropological value of Mannoni’s theory in the same way as any text that deserves to be part of the “classics.”
  • [13]
    O. Mannoni, op. cit., 218.
  • [14]
    M. Bloch, in Mannoni, 1990, op. cit., (French translation: « La psychanalyse au secours du colonialisme. À propos d’un ouvrage d’Octave Mannoni », Terrain, 28, 1997, 103-118:103).
  • [15]
  • [16]
    I would have dispensed with these schoolmasterish critiques if Bloch did not present himself as a righter of wrongs. Let us use one last example in this regard. Bloch criticized Mannoni for perceiving the Malagasy rebellion as the result of “primitives” whereas “at the highest level, it was the politicians who had received the best education.” With that remark, he validates the theory of the colonial authorities, who in 1947 assigned responsibility for the outbreak of the rebellion to leaders of the Democratic Movement for Malagasy Renovation (Mouvement Démocratique de la Rénovation Malgache – MDRM), which is false, as shown by historical research (and as Mannoni himself had understood at the time: see the passage in his Carnet, cited above). Either way, in May 1947, the incarcerated MDRM leaders were hard pressed to coordinate the violence that continued throughout 1948 and that historians now tend to regard as a complex set of uncoordinated movements and which, for some, had more to do with a peasant rebellion than with a nationalist anti-colonial struggle.
  • [17]
    Bloch also discusses the relevance of the interpretation of the dreams of young Malagasy people, which is obviously very fragile, even in the eyes of Mannoni himself.
  • [18]
    O. Mannoni, op. cit., 64–5.
  • [19]
    J.-M. Domenach, response to Alioune Diop (review of Psychology of colonization), Esprit, October 1950, 586-588: 588.
  • [20]
    O. Mannoni, “The decolonization of myself,” Race & Class April 1966 7: 337-345 and in Clefs pour l’Imaginaire ou l’Autre Scène (Paris: Seuil, 1969, 290-300: 292).
  • [21]
    Pierre Pachet, “Deux théories de la colonisation,” La Quinzaine Littéraire 560, (1990) “Que sont ‘nos’ ex-colonies devenues?” 15–6.
  • [22]
    Pierre Pachet, op. cit., 16 and quotation by Frantz Fanon, Les damnés de la terre (Paris: La Découverte, 2002) ; The Wretched of the Earth (New York : Grove Press, 2004).
  • [23]
    Ibid, 16.
  • [24]
    Ibid, 15.
  • [25]
    Pierre Bourdieu, “Logique interne de la société algérienne originelle,” in Le sous-développement en Algérie, 40–51. (Alger: Secrétariat Social, 1959), reprinted in Esquisses Algériennes, edited by Tassadit Yacine, 99–111 and 107. (Paris: Seuil, 2009).

This paper proposes a fresh interpretation of Octave Mannoni’s important work “Psychology of Colonization” (Psychologie de la Colonisation, Prospero and Caliban in the English translation), published in 1950 [2]. The approach is twofold. First, Mannoni’s work is contextualized through a meticulous historiographical account of the conditions for his writing and of its reception at the time. This is necessary in order to free our interpretation from the dross—a product of still current colonial and neocolonial history—that led to a frequent misunderstanding of this text, which was often presented as a defense of colonialism in the name of psychoanalysis, even though Mannoni’s anti-colonialist commitment is unquestionable. It then becomes possible to decontextualize the text in order to highlight its originality and importance to gift giving theory and, more generally, for visualizing the possible relations between psychoanalysis and the social sciences. This work then emerges as the most virulent criticism possible of colonialism since it mortally wounds its legitimization as being a “gift of civilization.” However, the work also emerges as a possible source of inspiration within multiple fields of analysis for reflecting on social relations of domination that are not restricted to exploitation in the conventional Marxist sense.

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