In Cooking Data Crystal Biruk offers an ethnographic account of research into the demographics of HIV and AIDS in Malawi to rethink the production of quantitative health data. While research practices are often understood within a clean/dirty binary, Biruk shows that data are never clean; rather, they are always “cooked” during their production and inevitably entangled with the lives of those who produce them. Examining how the relationships among fieldworkers, supervisors, respondents, and foreign demographers shape data, Biruk examines the ways in which units of information—such as survey questions and numbers written onto questionnaires by fieldworkers—acquire value as statistics that go on to shape national AIDS policy. Her approach illustrates how on-the-ground dynamics and research cultures mediate the production of global health statistics in ways that impact local economies and formulations of power and expertise.
Election campaigns, political events, and national celebration days in Malawi usually feature groups of women who dance and perform songs of praise for politicians and political parties. These lively performances help to attract and energize throngs of prospective voters. However, as Lisa Gilman explains, “praise performing” is one of the only ways that women are allowed to participate in a male-dominated political system.
Although political performances by women are not unique to Malawi, the case in Malawi is complicated by the fact that until 1994 all Malawianwomen were required to perform on behalf of the long-reigning political party and its self-declared “President for Life,” Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda+. This is the first book to examine the present-day situation, where issues of gender, economics and politics collide in surprising ways. Along with its solid grounding in the relevant literature, The Dance of Politics draws strength from Gilman’s first-hand observations and her interviews with a range of participants in the political process, from dancers to politicians.
For the Tumbuka people of Malawi, traditional medical practices are saturated with music. In this groundbreaking ethnography, Steven M. Friedson explores a health care system populated by dancing prophets, singing patients, and drummed spirits.
Tumbuka healers diagnose diseases by enacting divination trances in which they "see" the causes of past events and their consequences for patients. Music is the structural nexus where healer, patient, and spirit meet—it is the energizing heat that fuels the trance, transforming both the bodily and social functioning of the individual. Friedson shows how the sound of the ng'oma drum, the clapping of the choir, call-and-response singing, and the jangle of tin belts and iron anklets do not simply accompany other more important ritual activities—they are the very substance of a sacred clinical reality.
This novel look at the relation between music and mental and biological health will interest medical anthropologists, Africanists, and religious scholars as well as ethnomusicologists.
In March 2009, in a small town in Malawi, a nurse at the local hospital was accused of teaching witchcraft to children. Amid swirling rumors, “Mrs. K.” tried to defend her reputation, but the community nevertheless grew increasingly hostile. The legal, social, and psychological trials that she endured in the struggle to clear her name left her life in shambles, and she died a few years later.
In The Trials of Mrs. K., Adam Ashforth studies this and similar stories of witchcraft that continue to circulate in Malawi. At the heart of the book is Ashforth’s desire to understand how claims to truth, the pursuit of justice, and demands for security work in contemporary Africa, where stories of witchcraft can be terrifying. Guiding us through the history of legal customs and their interactions with the court of public opinion, Ashforth asks challenging questions about responsibility, occult forces, and the imperfect but vital mechanisms of law. A beautifully written and provocative book, The Trials of Mrs. K. will be an essential text for understanding what justice means in a fragile and dangerous world.