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Questioning Misfortune

Questioning Misfortune
The Pragmatics of Uncertainty in Eastern Uganda


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Part of Cambridge Studies in Medical Anthropology

  • Date Published: January 1998
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521595582

£ 32.99

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About the Authors
  • Some of the most interesting ethnographies of experience are concerned to highlight the indeterminate nature of life. Questioning Misfortune is very much within this tradition. Based on a long-term study of adversity and its social causes in Bunyole, eastern Uganda, it considers the way in which people deal with uncertainties of life, such as sickness, suffering, marital problems, failure, and death. Divination may identify causes of misfortune, ranging from ancestors and spirits to sorcerers. Sufferers and their families will then try out a variety of remedial measures, including pharmaceuticals, sorcery antidotes, and sacrifices. But remedies often fail, and doubt and uncertainty persist. Even the commercialisation of biomedicine, and the peril of AIDS can be understood in terms of a pragmatics of uncertainty.

    • Offers an unusually open-ended approach to the classical anthropological topic of misfortune, stressing uncertainty, ambiguity
    • Inspired by American philospher John Dewey, it combines a pragmatic theory of knowledge with a cultural analysis of personhood
    • Based on 25 years' fieldwork, tracing change, continuities in suffering and solutions - from impotence to AIDS, divination to pharmaceuticals
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    • Winner of the Amaury Talbot Prize 1997 for books on African Anthropology published during 1997

    Reviews & endorsements

    'The author's work, which expands over a period of twenty-five years, presents a unique style of anthropology of social experience … The student of anthropology and other readers not familiar with the African culture would find this an excellent piece of work. The illustrations are selected well, and in themselves a great reflection of practical social experience. The text is up-to-date and references abound … All in all, those with an interest in the subject of medical anthropology - especially in the African setting, whether observers, planners or teachers can expect to find much value in this book.' Social Science and Medicine

    'This is a coherent, elegantly written book, full of nuanced insight, highly crafted, very usable as a text in medical anthropology but also accessible to a wide readership.' Anthropology Today

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    Product details

    • Date Published: January 1998
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521595582
    • length: 274 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 15 mm
    • weight: 0.37kg
    • contains: 12 b/w illus. 1 colour illus.
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Part I. An Uncertain World:
    1. Misfortune and uncertainty
    2. The pursuit of health and prosperity
    3. Going to ask
    Part II. 'What You Cannot See': The Revelations of Spirits:
    4. At home with the dead
    5. The fertility of clanship
    6. Little spirits and child survival
    Part III. 'You Will Know Me': The Opacity of Humans:
    7. Speaking of morality
    8. Substances and secrecy
    Part IV. The Pragmatics of Uncertainty:
    9. More questions
    10. Consequences. Notes

  • Author

    Susan Reynolds Whyte, University of Copenhagen


    • Winner of the Amaury Talbot Prize 1997 for books on African Anthropology published during 1997

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