Johanna Sofia Adolfsson and Sigrun Marie Moss: “Even the NGOs Never Talk About Ufiti [Witchcraft]”: a Decolonial and Feminist Cultural Psychological Analysis of Individualized Development Clashing with Communal Ways of Being

Published in Human Arenas, 2021

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Conducting a multi-sited psychology study on how Malawian participants perceive Western-oriented non-governmental organizations’ (NGOs) gendered development approaches, it became apparent that perceptions of ufiti (the Malawian term for what loosely translates as witchcraft in English)—and its gendered inclination—was highly relevant. As in many parts of the world, people in Malawi may relate themselves and their social world in connection to spiritual and supernatural dimensions, manifested in practices and discourses often closely linked to communal norms and values. Many international NGOs in Malawi run individualized development initiatives, often particularly focusing on women and girls’ personal empowerment. When local communal ways of experiencing and knowing are not taken account for in the NGOs’ interventions, this indiviualized approach can spur interpersonal resentment, and in worst-case ufiti assaults. This article explores the link between individualized development incentives and perceptions of ufiti. Using decolonial and feminist cultural psychology as a lens, we ask how the individualized focus of the NGOs plays out in Malawi, and what negative and unintended consequences individualized interventions can lead to. Our results indicate the need for contextually grounded and informed development approaches, to avoid that effort to empower individual women and girls lead to their disempowerment, social disruption, and ufiti accusations and assaults. The article speaks to the need for decolonial and feminist cultural psychological approaches that consider subjective intentional worlds.


Johanna Sofia Adolfsson and Sigrun Marie Moss

Bilde av Johanna Adolfsson
Doctoral Research Fellow Johanna Adolfsson 
Published July 6, 2021 2:41 PM - Last modified July 6, 2021 2:45 PM