Negotiating languages of suffering in northern Uganda


  • Lars Hedegaard Williams



Trauma, Pragmatism, Suffering, Psychologization, Enchantment, Psychiatry


Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in northern Uganda, I argue that psychiatric notions of suffering brought into the region by humanitarian intervention programs interact with local concepts of suffering (based in spirit-idioms) in two ways: In some cases, the diagnostic notion of PTSD and its vernacular counterpart “trauma” psychologize the local cosmology, transforming local spirit concepts from social or moral categories, to psychological ones. In other cases, psychiatric discourses hinged around “trauma” become spiritualized or enchanted, where the concept of trauma becomes usurped by and part of local cosmology. In an attempt to understand these processes, I suggest understanding concepts of suffering through their use in social practice and based on pragmatist epistemology. If viewed as a pragmatist concepts, I argue, it becomes possible to understand the social life of concepts of suffering (such as “trauma”) when they become globalized and negotiated in new contexts and social practices.


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How to Cite

Williams, L. H. (2021). Negotiating languages of suffering in northern Uganda. Qualitative Studies, 6(1), 142–157.