Fear and Fainting in Luanda: Paranoid politics and the problem of interpretative authority in Angola


Jon Schubert
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 2022

This article unpacks the events and reactions surrounding a mysterious ‘fainting wave’ that swept through Angolan middle and high schools from early 2011 on. By attending to the historicity and materiality of the fainting wave, the article investigates why the strong conviction took root of a dark political intentionality behind this inexplicable phenomenon, and why this conspiratorial interpretation prevailed over alternative explanations of a more psychological or spiritual bent. Through this, the article contributes to disaggregating the seemingly monolithic, neo-authoritarian Angolan state. More importantly, it points to the limitations of analyses pivoting on an idea of opposing rationalities, while at the same time demonstrating how historically attuned, deep ethnography can help us overcome the limits of more ‘scientistic’ psychological explanations.