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Scientizing Bangladeshi psychiatry: Parallelism, enregisterment, and the cure for a magic complex

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 January 2008

Department of Anthropology, Box 15200, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ 86011-5200,


This article combines textual, videotape, historical, and ethnographic evidence to describe the Bangla psychiatric register and its enregisterment. Enregisterment is a process “through which a linguistic repertoire becomes differentiable [and] … socially recognized” (Agha 2003:231). The emergence of psychiatric registers in Europe and, later, Bangladesh bore the particular burden of psychiatry's “magic complex” – its need to convince a skeptical public that its perceived associations with magic and religion were finished, vanquished in part by discursive measures, focused on a scientizing drive. Psychiatric Bangla appears to involve the sort of pervasive use of parallelism normally associated with ritual texts. This indicates a profound hybridity that may contribute to the psychiatric unease epitomized in the magic complex.The author gratefully acknowledges suggestions and comments from Carol Berkenkotter, Dan Conrad, Laurence Kirmayer, Barbara Johnstone, Greg Matoesian, and two anonymous reviewers for Language in Society. Sayeed Ahmed provided enormous help with transliterating most of the letters analyzed, and with translating some. Anna Corwin and other students in my Linguistic Anthropology Lab (fall 2006) helped with figures. Naturally, the author is responsible for all flaws that remain.

Research Article
© 2008 Cambridge University Press

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