Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Divining Troubles, or Divining Troubles? Emergent and Conflictual Dimensions of Bangladeshi Divination

Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Divining Troubles, or Divining Troubles? Emergent and Conflictual Dimensions of Bangladeshi Divination

Article excerpt

Divination is more dialogical than some diviners or anthropologists have made it appear I analyze the transcript of one Bangladeshi divination event, comparing it with a dozen others performed by one diviner, Delwar, revealing how tenuously he manages to assign a single meaning to troubles, especially when clients openly compare his declarations with their intimate knowledge of those troubles. I explain how divinations could appear to be texts rather than emergent products of interaction. Diviners entextualize their declamations, doing their best to keep context at bay. Anthropologists who concentrate on textual products of divination-like Delwar's declamations-have made divination appear to enable groups to manage conflicts by transcending personal intentionality. Such representations elide troublesome interactive processes in which declamations emerge, meet potential rejection by clients, and are always vulnerable to recontextualization as clients might return to the diviner as events shift their perception of earlier divinations' accuracy. [divination, dialogism, entexualization, conflict, South Asia]

This article presents an interpretation of divination as dialogic, interactive, and always potentially unsettling. In Matlab, Bangladesh, divination is one of several practices by which troubles are interpreted and the "underlying causes" that are divined become potential social facts. Divination thus is one of a number of practice-genres (Hanks 1996) for managing questions and troubles; others include astrology, palmistry, exorcism, and traditional medicine. Such practices predate and differ from, but are increasingly being brought into line with, reformist Islam. Troubles talk and troubles management in ritual, medical, and everyday contexts occupied me during my fieldwork in 1992 and 1996, and were the subject of my first book (Wilce 1998b).

In a subheading of that book, I placed divination events "outside the dialogical pattern" that holds in most "problem-solving" encounters, such as those between biomedical practitioners and their patients. That perspective was limiting. In this article I uncover the multiple ways in which the divination encounters which one Delwar Kari has with his clients are quite dialogical; they are constructed with the substantial participation of those clients. They fill in the gaps, for instance, when his divined knowledge appears spotty. After presenting an outline distilled from analyzing a dozen divination encounters, I analyze one in detail. First, however, I describe the Bangladeshi context for divinations as encounters that are not only aimed at divining and managing troubles. They are themselves laden with potential troubles-troubles inherent in divining, that is, divining troubles (if you follow my use of contrastive stress patterns I would use to link and distinguish the two phrases).

Divination and Rural Bangladesh

Divination is a genre of interpretive discourse. Bangladeshis have described several forms for me, and at least one novelistic account of a form of divination is also available in Bangla (Ishaque 1955), the dominant language of Bangladesh. Bangladeshi divination fits the general description offered by John DuBois:

Viewed literally, divination is a process for obtaining information which is (typically) unavailable by ordinary means, that is, which cannot be gotten by the usual techniques of indigenous practical epistemology, such as seeing, hearing, being told by another person-the commonplace categories of evidential coding systems . . . . Viewed in its social aspect, however, divination is not so much a means of obtaining information as a means of establishing social facts, facts which command a consensus and can form the basis for legitimate, recognized social action (1992: 54).

DuBois distinguishes "mechanical" from "mental" divination processes. The latter would include trance-possession, in which a spirit reveals the nature of a problem (the very form of divination described in Ishaque's 1955 novel). …

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