Karin van Bemmel

BSc Clinical Psychology and Cultural Anthropology, MSc Cultural Anthropology (Utrecht University). Karin has undertaken fieldwork in Guatemala, Kenya and Tanzania. Presently she is a PhD-student at Ghent University, Belgium, and affiliated to the African Studies Centre in Leiden, the Netherlands. Since October 2011 she is working on her PhD entitled ‘Mental Health and the Conceptualization of Illness in a Post-Conflict Area’. The study combines the fields of anthropology, psychology and conflict-studies, focusing on local discourses, support groups and the conceptualization of nodding syndrome in northern Uganda. The BOF-funded project is being supervised by Prof. Koenraad Stroeken (Ghent University), Prof. Rijk van Dijk (African Studies Centre) and Dr. Catherine Abbo (Makere University).

Nodding syndrome appears to affect thousands of children in northern Uganda, South Sudan and Tanzania. Characterized by head nodding and convulsions when eating, children are reported to suffer mental retardation and stunted growth. Little is known about the prognosis, but it is thought to be very debilitating both physically and mentally. So far there is no known cause or cure. The central thesis of this PhD research is that we can learn more about afflictions by looking at formative processes through which knowledge is produced. Hence focus is put on the various and distinct (e.g. medical, political, spiritual) discourses that seek to gain insight into nodding syndrome and thus constitute its conceptualization.

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Ghent University
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