AIDAN SEALE-FELDMAN, PH.D.
I am a psychological and medical anthropologist specializing in the study of mental health and psychic life. My research is based in the Nepal Himalayas, where I explore the ethics and politics of psychic life in times of disaster. In addition to teaching courses on biopolitics, medical and psychological anthropology, the anthropology of ethics and morality, and public-facing anthropology, I write and experiment with ethnographic cinema and anthropological image-work.
In 2014, I began dissertation fieldwork in Nepal with a project focused on the phenomenon of “mass hysteria” and the transfer of affect among adolescent girls in rural schools. Such cases were a contested object of psychosocial intervention in rural communities–while counselors drew on theories of “conversion disorder” and somatization, communities and afflicted girls often insisted that the affliction was a form of ghostly haunting. For anthropology, “mass hysteria” poses interesting challenges to how we think about a form of affliction and experience that is de-centered from the individual, and instead transfers through a group or arises in relation to the environment.
On April 25, 2015, halfway through my fieldwork, Nepal was struck by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake. The event radically reconfigured the therapeutic landscape and my understanding of the field. Faced with the challenge of making anthropology immediately useful, I began to work in a collaborative mode as an ethnographic consultant with a local NGO on a post-disaster psychosocial intervention program. In this part of my fieldwork I followed the public articulation of a “mental health crisis” in the aftermath of the disaster; its strategic uses, ethical demands, and unexpected consequences. Out of this experience I developed a second strand of research on the critical study of crisis, care, and worldbuilding in the wake of disaster.
My future work builds on my research on mental health and psychic life by exploring the “psychedelic renaissance” and psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy in the United States. While psychiatry is rapidly expanding throughout the Global South, in the Global North increasing dissatisfaction with the efficacy of SSRIs and psychiatric treatment modalities has inspired a flood of new research on psychedelic plant medicine to treat addiction, anxiety, PTSD, and depression. Through a study of the development of a new psychedelic pharmaceutical industry, theories of consciousness, and experiences of ego dissolution, this project will explore the challenges and imagined possibilities of psychedelic medicine as a liberatory form of healing.
In 2021, I joined the faculty of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame. Prior to this, I was a Postdoctoral Research Associate and Lecturer in Bioethics at the University of Virginia. Since 2018 I have been a Research Associate at the Centre d’anthropologie culturelle (CANTHEL) at Université Paris Cité, where I collaborate with researchers studying grief, mourning, and medical pluralism in South Asia. My research has been supported by grants from the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the UC Chancellor’s Prize, the UCLA Center for the Study of Women, and the Foundation for Psychocultural Research, among others.
I received my PhD in Anthropology from UCLA in 2018, my MA in Anthropology from UCLA in 2012, and my BA in Liberal Arts from Sarah Lawrence College in 2009.