Accepted paper:

Healing encounters in rural South India: the soothsayer's word as a means to relieve mental distress


Alexis Avdeeff (EHESS)

Paper short abstract:

This paper aims to highlight the psychotherapeutic dimension of astrological consultation in rural Tamil Nadu, through the analysis of the dialogical relationship, which is established between the astrologer and his consultant in the course of the diagnostic process.

Paper long abstract:

All divinatory process begins with a request on the consultant's side. Whether implicit or explicit, this query is always motivated by angst or anxiety about a past, present, or future event. In the footsteps of Judy Pugh (1983a, 1984), and Josée Contreras and Jeanne Favret-Saada (1990), this communication will focus on the various discursive processes used by the astrologer during the consultation to unravel the problematic situation of his consultant.

Drawing on data collected during a fieldwork within the Valluvar astrologers of Tamil Nadu, between 2006 and 2008, I will show how the dialogic confrontation of two words - with different statuses in this therapeutic area - fuels the divinatory therapy and finally enables the consultant to shed a new light on his situation. Thus, the astrological consultation appears as a dialogic process which seeks to analyse, understand and reformulate the situation of the consultant - situation in which the act of divination itself actually plays a limited part. Seen in this light, the divinatory speech is not so much used to utter "real" predictions but is more of a tool which mobilises categories of the visible and the invisible, through a dialogic game back and forth between, on the one hand, the perceptible elements of the situation of the consultant and, on the other hand, those revealed by the horoscope, in order to produce the therapeutic words which bring sense and meaning to the consultant.

panel P33
Constructing diagnosis in 'mental health': the negotiation of categories, the encounter of subjectivities in South Asia