Social Analysis
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Social Analysis

Editor: Martin Holbraad, University College London

Volume 60 / 2016, 4 issues per volume (spring, summer, autumn, winter)

Subjects: Anthropology, Politics, International Relations

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Rheumatic Irony: Questions of Agency and Self-deception as Refracted through the Art of Living with Spirits

Michael Lambek


The story of a young man from the Western Indian Ocean island of

Mayotte who was prevented from a career in the French army by an

illness sent by a spirit who possesses his mother inspires reflection

on the nature of agency. I suggest that spirit possession and the ill-

nesses it produces are intrinsically ironic. The prevalence of irony

implies not that we should disregard agency but that perhaps we

should not take it too literally.

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