Health, Culture & Society

Sylvie Fainzang

Of malady and misery. An Africanist perspective on European illness.

Amsterdam: Het Spinhuis. 2000
ISBN 90-5589-166-5

A manifesto. This is the best term to describe this text. One of its aims is to expose the theoretical foundations, which justify the application to a Western society of an ‘exotically-inspired’ method in the field of the anthropology of illness.
The presentation of first results, and their confrontation with researches from Africa in this field, is to establish a comparative study of representations of illness, which raises some fundamental questions in social and cultural anthropology. In France as in Africa, the way an individual interprets his illness reveals his relationships both with other people, including his near relatives and neighbours and those whom he regards as strangers, and with the society in which he lives. At the same time, the manner in which the individual experiences his illness, and the way in which he speaks of it, vary according to whether he belongs to a Western society or to an African lineage society.
This book is the enlarged edition of a work first published in the Éditions of EHESS (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris), in 1989. Here, it is followed by an ‘Aftermath’ presenting a summary of the research subsequently carried out by the author, and a review of the principal orientation taken by Medical Anthropology in the last ten years.
The book is translated by John O’Donnehue with a foreword of Els van Dongen.

Sylvie Fainzang, PhD, is an anthropologist and currently working at CERMES in Paris. She is the author of several books on representations and practices concerning the body and illness.