“Madness” and Disparity Effects in a Post-Conflict City: South Kivu’s Bukavu

Nancy Rose Hunt

University of Pennsylvania

Monday, March 30, 2020 - 3:30pm

University of Pennsylvania
Claudia Cohen Hall, Room 337
249 S 36th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

I will consider elements emerging from new research on perceptions of “madness” and the mentally ill in Bukavu, a Congolese city bordering Rwanda, known for conflict, criminality, and insecurity. In 1994, hundreds of thousands of refugees flooded into Bukavu from Rwanda’s genocide. Among them were two European psychiatric nurses and their patients, all in flight from a Catholic mental health facility. The Catholic Church in Bukavu gave these refugees a spacious site up an important peak with stunning views of Lake Kivu and the city below. For six 2019 months, I did ethnographic, life history, and archival research in this hospital and city. The visibility of Bukavu’s mentally ill is striking and not at all confined to its psychiatric hospital. Many Bukaviens find diversion in naming and telling a partial life for one of these “mad” -- disturbed, delirious, aberrant – individuals, easily espied wandering or self-stationed in diverse city scenes. Their telling tends to combine the gaunt with a sparkle. More neutral, clinical, or securitizing languages, which categorize or “capture,” are also present in the city, while religious idioms are multiple and sometimes fractious. I will wonder about whether Foucault’s notion of disparity effects is useful in thinking about such ways of telling. Or, are the key disparities more spatial, related to workings of power, secrecy, and dramaturgies in this turbulent, makeshift city, a Congolese world that combines reticence and lenience with memories of massacre and war.