Troubled Minds

On the Cultural Construction of Mental Disorder and Normality in Southern Malaŵi

by Arne S. Steinforth (Author)
©2009 Thesis XIV, 334 Pages


Every society has its own definition of a normal and an abnormal human condition. For persons living with mental disorders, these concepts have a tremendous impact. This study investigates how the abnormal mind is culturally defined in Malaŵi, South-Eastern Africa. Based on anthropological techniques such as interviews, participant observation, and archive research, it explores the different social dimensions of mental disorder – e.g. its reflection in traditional dance rituals, in behavioural rules during pregnancy, or in the healing ministry of independent churches. It demonstrates how local explanations of mental disorder – be it witchcraft, an angry ancestor, or the will of God – determine the social acceptance of an affected person’s condition. Recent processes of cultural change, however, strengthen the pluralism of Malaŵian religious landscape, opening the local debate to an ever wider range of interpretations.


XIV, 334
ISBN (Softcover)
Medizinethnologie Religionsethnologie Disability Studies Transcultural Psychiatry
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2009. XIV, 334 pp., num. fig.

Biographical notes

Arne S. Steinforth (Author)

The Author: Arne S. Steinforth is a social anthropologist from Bremen (Germany). With a focus on Eastern and Southern Africa he investigates questions of medical anthropology and religion as well as of psychiatry and culture. Currently he is a lecturer and research fellow at the University of Münster where he gained his Ph.D. in 2008.


Title: Troubled Minds