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Madness or transcendence? Tang-ki spirit-medium healing in Singapore

Bull, G.E.; (2009) Madness or transcendence? Tang-ki spirit-medium healing in Singapore. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London).

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Spirit-mediums and their activities have been of great interest to anthropologists, dealing, as they do with the nature of being a person in a social world. There have been various orientations towards studying the subject matter, including a psychoanalytical approach, although many anthropologists eschew psychoanalytical accounts as pathologizing the subjects of investigation. I, however, suggest that a Lacanian psychoanalytical approach can offer a significant contribution to the subject matter. It can help one investigate the healing aspect of spirit-medium phenomena and how healing relates to both psychological and social processes. Field research on spirit-mediums [tang-kis] in Singapore was undertaken over a total period of fourteen months. In that time, I was mainly involved in participant observation at two shines. Healing rituals at tang-ki shrines can be considered to be about sexual identity and resistance to a ‘master discourse’ given by governing authorities. I show that tang-ki worship can also be considered to be about being a subject and developing an identity, in a country where there are a multiplicity of identity discourses. In the shrines people develop a discourse that changes them so they are more able to deal with their personal problems and the problems of living in a modern, globalized, capitalist society. While many people who go to tang-ki shrines have problems that could be characterized in terms of psychopathology taken from the psychiatric discourse, I argue that tang-ki worship gives people the means of transcending these problems. I show that tang-ki worship is not insanity in the medical sense, but promotes a way of dealing with the ‘’madness’ within us and the ‘madness’ within society. To this extent, it can be called a transcendent phenomenon.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Madness or transcendence? Tang-ki spirit-medium healing in Singapore
Language: English
Additional information: Authorisation for digitisation not received
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of Anthropology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/17247
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