The senses and suffering: Medical knowledge, spirit possession, and vaccination programs in Aja

by Kennell, James Leslie, Ph.D., SOUTHERN METHODIST UNIVERSITY, 2011, 271 pages; 3460119


In an Aja community of southwest Benin, multiple domains of medical knowledge and practice interlock and compete for control of illness meaning and sensory experience. Global health initiatives (vaccination and education programs), national health care structures, and Aja medico-religious practice each incorporate and manipulate the knowledge and practice of the other in order to create legitimacy and shape therapeutic trajectories. Biomedical nosology and disease prevention efforts conflict with local understandings of individual and community health concerning diseases that affect the skin. Local Aja physiological and pathological understandings of infection and disease progression lead sufferers to seek treatment in various medical domains—behavior seen as inconsistent and contradictory by global and national biomedical personnel. Efforts at the sensibilisation of the community regarding vaccinations and other global health initiatives is met in turn with local medico-religious knowledge emphasizing a sensual experience of illness and healing for individual and community. “Sensibilisation” is a French public health term, meaning “raising awareness”, but often assumes belief and behavior will change, often through coercion if necessary. More than just an effort to coerce the community into accepting public health initiatives, Aja experiences of suffering and healing are made illegitimate. An anthropology of the senses may be employed to provide a critical analysis of the nuances of medical knowledge and sensory experience, the manipulation of opposing knowledge to create legitimacy and influence behavior, and how the Aja sense, use, and negotiate contradictions across domains of medical knowledge.

AdvisersCaroline Brettell; Carolyn Sargent
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsAfrican studies; Cultural anthropology; Public health
Publication Number3460119

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