Accepted Paper:

Theorising diverse understandings of mental disturbance in Khayelitsha, South Africa  


Hayley MacGregor (Institute of Development Studies)

Paper short abstract:

This paper addresses the theme of diversity and mutuality by considering how a medical anthropologist might analyse the interweaving of seemingly conflicting understandings of causation in individuals' accounts of mental disturbance in Khayelitsha, South Africa.

Paper long abstract:

Explanations of mental disturbance in Khayelitsha, South Africa, tend to incorporate a diversity of understandings. In a setting of more formal inquiry, detailed classifications are presented of witchcraft or ancestral influence in order to explain the occurrence of such illness. Such typologies in fact vary from person to person; however, even more striking is the fact that the actual illness accounts of individuals usually include a mixture of seemingly conflicting aetiological concepts. Beliefs in the agency of witches and ancestors are adapted, but there is also evidence of ideas assimilated from Christianity, lay psychiatric vocabulary and trauma models popularised by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Seemingly conflicting registers are interwoven as people attempt to draw together a narrative account of their experience of help seeking. The paper will focus on ethnographic material illustrating this particular endeavour to make meaning from inchoate thoughts and often fragmentary, partly incomprehensible, illness experience. It will finally address the question of how best to frame this complex and at times confusing reality in analytical terms.

Panel W023
For a sceptical anthropology?