Spirit Children: Illness, Poverty, and Infanticide in Northern Ghana (2017)
In parts of West Africa, some babies and toddlers are considered spirit children—nonhumans sent from the forest to cause misfortune and destroy the family. These are usually deformed or ailing infants, the very young whose births coincide with tragic events, or children who display unusual abilities. In some of these cases, families seek a solution in infanticide. Many others do not.
The White Man is My Driver: Fieldnotes on Belonging (in progress)
I’m currently working on a new collection of essays and experimenting with different forms of writing. It’s a collection of loosely connected ethnographic essays ranging from 500 to 3,000 words. Readability and narrative will be privileged over theory and abstraction. In other words, the book consists of mostly “the good parts.” Read some sample essays on my blog.
Selected Peer-Reviewed Articles and Book Chapters
Denham, Aaron (forthcoming 2019). Of House or Bush: The Cultural Psychodynamics of Infanticide in Northern Ghana. Current Anthropology.
Within Northern Ghana, the Nankani people describe how disabled or ill children and those whose births coincide with tragic events are spirit children sent from the bush to cause misfortune and destroy the family. Upon identification, some spirit children are subject to infanticide. People often describe spirit children as wanting to kill the same sex parent in order to take over the house. Based on discourse alone, one might explain the spirit child in terms of a presumed underlying oedipal dynamic, but such an analysis is partial. When we interpret the spirit child from the bifocal vision of cultural psychodynamics, which links cultural phenomenology and psychodynamic paradigms, we gain a complex understanding of the interactions between Nankani cultural models, moral imaginations, family relations, and parental ambivalence. I interpret families’ perceptions of danger and their feelings of fear and hostility toward children in reference to infant alterity, narcissistic injury, scapegoating, and projective processes that link individual sentiments and decision-making with their cultural and material contexts. Cultural psychodynamics illuminates Nankani conceptions of child development, morality, and parental psychologies, and offers insights into how and why some parents decide to kill their children.
Denham, Aaron (2014). Misconceptions and the Mystification of Infanticide in Northern Ghana: Ethnographic Insights. In Medical Anthropology in Global Africa. Rhine, K, Janzen, J., Adams, G., and Aldersey, H. eds. (pp. 157-163). Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Publications in Anthropology.
Denham, Aaron (2012). Shifting Maternal Responsibilities and the Trajectory of Blame in Northern Ghana. In Risk Reproduction and Narratives of Experience. Fordyce, L., & A. Maraesa, eds. (pp. 173-189). Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press.
Fletcher, Chris and Aaron Denham (2008). Moving Towards Healing – Nunavut Case Study. In Aboriginal Healing in Canada: Studies in Therapeutic Meaning and Practice. Waldram, J. (ed.) (pp. 93-129). Ottawa: The Aboriginal Healing Foundation.
Other publications can be found here.