ESR Project 3

The Mental Health Security: The New Mad in Burkina Faso’s Urban Context

 Supervisors Ann Cassiman (University of Leuven) and Paul Wenzel Geissler (University of Oslo)

Save some exceptions (Dakar, Accra), mental health care structures in West-Africa are generally weak and mental health care policies are often only partially, if at all, implemented. This PhD project focuses on mental health patients in the context of institutionalized health care in Ouagadougou as well as in more informal settings, such as the street, the household and the family context in which they reside or live. The project explores the links between notions of mental illness, madness and the urban setting and will contribute to our understanding of, firstly, how the urban context creates conditions of social abandonment (inasmuch as the city enhances the breakdown of local kinship and family networks) and, secondly, how urban life, including an increased economic and spiritual competition contributes to a redefinition of the notions of madness and sanity itself, as well as the relations of care and dependency that shape them. Thirdly, the project studies the history of post-colonial psychiatry in West Africa and Burkina Faso in particular, and the role and diversity of the psychiatric profession, between endogenous and biomedical notions of mental health, but also between progressive 1970s psychiatry and present abandonment.

The proposed PhD project will draw on ethnographic research with mental health patients, their families and caretakers, medical professionals and health care institutions, including a historic perspective on the institutions and the professionals. It explores and analyses formal and informal services and structures of mental health care in Ouagadougou and the role of churches and civil society initiatives that respond to pressing mental healthcare needs in the absence of more official responses. The research will also include exploring endogenous definitions, constructions and perceptions of madness, sanity and insanity in Burkina Faso, new forms of social abandonment and exclusion; historical and contemporary discourses on ‘madness’ and the mentally ill and health security in public media.

The project will be based on 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork, including 3 months of secondment to the Institut de Sciences et Sociétés (INSS) in Ouagadougou, during which the PhD student will take part in on-going (action)research programs.