More than a decade ago, the case of a young woman named Catarina entered the annals of anthropology. Believed to be suffering from a psychosis, Catarina lived in an asylum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, when anthropologist João Biehl met her. Biehl’s ethnography (2005) describes how state and family authorities colluded in designating Catarina as mentally ill, excluding her from the life that she had previously led.
Catarina’s existence, this ethnography shows, was shaped by a variety of social, economic, and political factors. Of all these, domestic conditions played a particularly important role in mediating how larger structural forces affected her mind and body, granting her certain life chances while denying her others.
This special issue of Medical Anthropology calls for more sustained anthropological attention to the ways in which mental health conditions are embedded in domestic worlds. We use the term “domestic worlds” in a heuristic manner, referring to both families and households and treating these units as open structures that are fundamentally shaped by social and political economies.