Madness, Fear, and Control in Bangladesh: Clashing Bodies of Power/Knowledge


This article presents an understanding of how Bangladeshis cope with madness in relation to two assumptions: that systems of knowledge and of power are coterminous, and that actors in medical encounters draw on incompatible and unequal bodies of knowledge-power. I first offer a perspective on psychiatry, emotion, and discourse in Bangladesh as a society increasingly caught up in globalizing modernity. Then I present two types of data to illumine tensions between various attempts to control the fears associated with schizophrenia. The first is a set of exchanges in the advice column of a new popular psychiatry magazine in Bangladesh that inculcate new perspectives on self. Those who write to the editors signal their fears of what might, in the end, be impossible to control. Answers from the psychiatrists who edit the magazine reflect discourses circulating on the web, at international conferences, and at the institutions in the United Kingdom and the United States where one of them received his training. The second data set consists of video recordings of persons diagnosed with schizophrenia interacting with families and/or psychiatrists. In part because of knowledge-power asymmetries, attempts at controlling fears surrounding schizophrenia in these four cases fail to address the depths, tacitness, embodiment, and narrative embedding of anxieties experienced by all parties. I close with an argument about the implications for theories of culture and of medical pluralism that arise from cases in which the local Self is experienced from the perspective of powerful Others.