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 Identity and 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 a sample here.
Selected Peer-Reviewed Articles and Book Chapters
Denham, Aaron (under review). Of House or Bush: Cultural Psychodynamics of Spirit Children and Infanticide in Northern Ghana.
Within rural 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. The oedipal motifs that appear in Nankani relational patterns and spirit child discourse depict abnormal children as scapegoats, positioning the child’s body as the ground for misfortune and disorder. The bifocal vision of cultural psychodynamics, which links cultural and psychological paradigms, offers integrative theories and explanations. Interpretations incorporating the roles of basic strangeness, narcissistic injury, and projective processes within Nankani cultural worlds and contexts of scarcity explain how and why some families develop fearful and infanticidal sentiments when encountering abnormal 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.