Accepted Paper:

Singing sorrow: from emotional attitude to emotional dysfunction  

Author:

Chiara Pussetti (Universidade de Lisboa)

Paper short abstract:

Acknowledging anthropological approaches to emotions as a helpful theoretical tool for analyzing migrants’ mental health, this paper – based upon a fieldwork in the Bijagó Archipelago (Guinea Bissau) and in a Portuguese mental health service for migrants - underlines how biomedicine is responsible for pathologizing the moral experience of suffering.

Paper long abstract:

Acknowledging anthropological approaches to 'emotions' as a helpful theoretical tool for analyzing migrants' mental health, this paper - based upon a long-term fieldwork in the Bijagó Archipelago (Guinea Bissau) and in a Portuguese mental health service for migrants - underlines how the culture of biomedicine is responsible for pathologizing the moral experience of suffering. Among the Bijagós, hopelessness and depressive affect are emotional experiences not only accepted, but also considered morally and aesthetically appropriate. The "burnt heart" (local expression) is an existential condition due to the awareness of the misery of human life: a sign of intelligence and refinement and not at all as a deviant behaviour, an emotional trouble or a medical problem. In the diasporic context, what is seen by my Bijagós informants as a sophisticated emotional attitude, in the psychiatrists' interpretation, driven by the political economy of the pharmaceutical industry, counts as a depressive disorder. The "burnt heart", a culturally constructed emotional attitude, is considered pathological and an obstacle to the goal of assimilation: the pharmaceutical make-up is regarded as necessary. This ethnographic case presents a reflection about old questions: is the category of depression a universal condition? And are its treatments applicable everywhere? What should we consider normal and abnormal states of unhappiness? Who has the power to propose emotional models to aspire to in order to define ourselves and the wished quality of our life and our emotions? Which are the economic and political interests of these new models of persons and emotions?

Panel W014
From medical pluralism to therapeutic plurality: medical anthropology and the politics of diversity, knowledge, and experience from multiple perspectives