Conceptions of Psychosis in Four East African Societies

Robert B. Edgerton, American Anthropologist, 1966, 68, 2, 408-425.

Excerpt: Psychiatrically cultural in scope, yet despite a growing multi-disciplinary research effort, many areas of the world remain unstudied and much of the work that has been reported is notably deficient in quality. Nowhere is this deficit in basic data more apparent than in Africa. Thanks primarily to the work of British social anthropologists, secondarily to the French, Germans, Belgians and others, and recently to the Americans, African social systems have been described and analyzed with a comprehensiveness and skill not exceeded in any other area of the globe. Yet, psychological and psychiatric research in Africa has scarcely begun. As LeVine (1961 : 48) in his survey of African research has commented: “There has probably been less research on socialization process, the psychodynamics of cultural behavior, the application of projective techniques, personality and culture change, and culture and mental disorder in Africa than in any major continental area of the world.”

There is still no comprehensive review of the literature on mental disorder in Africa, although there are a few major writings which taken together provide a reasonably satisfactory introduction to the field. LeVine (1961) does include some sound comments on the state of research in mental health in his more general review of psychological research, but his coverage of the mental health research literature is limited. Opler $B!G (Bs general review (1956) is also valuable. Tooth (1950) discusses much of the earlier West African literature as does Field (1960) some years later, but the most complete survey of research relevant to West Africa is provided by Leighton el al. (1963). Laubscher (1952) introduces sonie South African sources, and Carothers (1953), despite his odd conclusions regarding “African” brains and his misunderstanding of culture, does list a great many pieces of research, particularly for East Africa. Finally, the Bukavu Conference (1958) presents short papers, summary statements, and bibliographic sources regarding psychiatric research throughout Africa.

There are a great many important and vexing concerns in African psychiatric research. For example, there is the epidemiological of determining accurate incidence and prevalence rates.2 There are also the prohlems of describing and categorizing the symptomatology of mental illness for all of Africa, and of analyzing the techniques of native And, of course, there are many other urgent research needs. …