La socialité des médecines africaines
Transculturale 1 2022
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Zempléni, A. (2022). La socialité des médecines africaines . TransCulturale, 1(1), 31-51. Recuperato da


Unlike the ethnographic tradition of the monograph, in the 1960s the author began his anthropological experience with an applied research at the hospital of Fann, Senegal. From the beginning his experience was marked by a spirit of multidisciplinarity. The aim of the research was to understand the local therapeutic practices for patients presenting psychosomatic suffering, in order to integrate them into the development of the therapeutic process. The team, led by H. Collomb with Marie-Cécile and Edmond Ortigues, was formed by various professionals from the Western health world and sometimes it included traditional therapists; their close collaboration was articulated around the belief that, in Africa, the group had therapeutic potential in itself. In fact, it was found that the sick person’s family environment proposed magical-religious interpretations of the disease which established a causal connection with the social illness, thus supporting a process of socialisation of the pathological experience. The processes of aetiological interpretation of the illness were mediated by invisible agents – deaths, genies, witchcraft, divinities, magic – constitutive of the social organisation that acted as a projective-persecutory support to locate the source of internal suffering outside, in a social instance or in another human subject. In the interactive treatment process, the patient, his or her family and social environment, and the therapist addressed the invisible agent supposed to be the source of the illness, giving shape to desires and conflicts that would otherwise have remained censored by the group members. The effect was twofold: the modification of the sick person’s state and at the same time of the relational web/fabric/network of his/her group. Among the objections that can be made to this reading is the downplaying of the increasing individualisation in Africa. For this reason, the author travelled to Ivory Coast in 1965, in Bregbo, where he met the prophet-healer Albert-Atcho and his technique of ‘diabolic confession’. This practice involved the sick publicly confessing the acts they had committed under the influence of the ‘devil’, but also taking on the sufferings of their family and social environment. In this practice, the dissociation taking place between the speaking subject and his evil double, the result of a projection, mitigated the effects of the individualisation of Ivorian society. Intense socio-economic change (1960-1993) led to the decline of classical persecutory interpretations of the illness, causing the appearance of ‘desocialising persecutions’: the sick subject finds himself alone with his/her demons, deprived of ties with the social group to which he/she belongs. The Author wonders about the social use of disease in Africa at the present day of Covid19. To get an idea, he proposes to think of the way in which the Ivorian social system has been modified by the AIDS epidemic: AIDS patients live in isolation and are forced into secrecy, no longer enjoying the benefit of socialisation that was sustained by traditional projective-persecutory communication. From the socialisation of the disease in Senegal to the loneliness of the AIDS patient in Ivory Coas, African society is open to the creation of new articulations between the individual and society, the body and the mind, the cultural and the transcultural, which the anthropology of the disease aims to highlight.

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