Strange Distance: Towards an Anthropology of Interior Dialogue


The capacity for a complex inner life—encompassing inner speech, imaginative reverie, and unarticulated moods—is an essential feature of living with illness and a principal means through which people interpret, understand, and manage their condition. Nevertheless, anthropology lacks a generally accepted theory or methodological framework for understanding how interiority relates to people’s public actions and expressions. Moreover, as conventional social–scientific methods are often too static to understand the fluidity of perception among people living with illness or bodily instability, I argue we need to develop new, practical approaches to knowing. By placing the problem of interiority directly into the field and turning it into an ethnographic, practice-based question to be addressed through fieldwork in collaboration with informants, this article works alongside women living with HIV/AIDS in Uganda with the aim of capturing the unvoiced but sometimes radical changes in being, belief, and perception that accompany terminal illness.