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The Breakdown of the Hegemonic Representation of Madness in Africa



Social science has recently examined the dramatic increase of witchcraft and magic in everyday contemporary African. A study, which took place in the 1970's, on the representation of madness in postcolonial Congo, contributes to the elucidation of such an outgrowth. In line with the first version of La Psychoanalyse, it aimed at identifying variations in the images, beliefs, and attitudes associated with groups whose social positioning differed in relation to modernity. Sixty old men were interviewed. The respondents provided a representation in the making that neither reflected Western knowledge nor faithfully echoed local patterns. The Western elements were anchored in a strongly objectified local belief system. For “traditional” informants the meaning attributed to madness testifies to the transformation of a hegemonic representation into a polemical one since it addressed the question of their identity shaken by modernity. An emancipated representation emerged within the most educated group. A secondary analysis of the data contributes to current theoretical debates within social representations theory in focusing on tolerance/intolerance to alternative representations through semantic barriers. It brings more evidence to the fragmentation of the hegemonic system of belief and confirms how social—identity content and relations mediate knowledge construction.