The pragmatics of "madness": performance analysis of a Bangladeshi woman's "aberrant" lament

James M. Wilce

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22 Scopus citations


A fine-grained analysis of the transcript of a Bangladeshi woman's lament is used to argue for an anthropology of "madness" that attends closely to performance and performativity. The emergent, interactive production of wept speech, together with the conflicting use to which it is put by the performer and her relatives, is linked problematically to performance genres and to ethnopsychiatric indexes of madness. Tuneful weeping is taken by relatives to be performative of madness, in a sense something like Austin's. Yet, exploration of the divergent linguistic ideologies which are brought to bear on the lament not only enables more nuanced ethnographic treatment but also has reflexive ramifications for medical and psychological anthropology. This leads to a critique of the referentialism in our own treatment of language. The role played by transparent reference is overshadowed by indexicality and by dialogical processes of proposing and resisting labels for speech genres attributed to the "mad.".

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-54
Number of pages54
JournalCulture, Medicine and Psychiatry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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