Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Tara F. Deubel, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Fenda Akiwumi, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Daniel Lende, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Dillon Mahoney, Ph.D.

Committee Member

David Rubin, Ph.D.


ethnography, phenomenology, symbolic violence, patriarchy, oppression of women


Among the most marginalized populations in the world, one group of women has been persistently ignored, silenced, and forgotten. In Burkina Faso, West Africa, older women in rural villages are often the target of witchcraft accusations; the consequences of these accusations are alarming because these women undergo violent attacks, face exclusion from their villages, and become the most vulnerable and marginalized segment of the Burkinabe population. Between August 2017 and November 2018, I conducted an ethnographic study of Burkinabe women accused of witchcraft living in two shelters in the capital city of Ouagadougou and examined women’s experiences of accusation, trauma, and how they have built new forms of identity and solidarity.

Witchcraft has garnered continuous and varying interest in anthropology since the foundation of the discipline and has been analyzed using various and opposing frameworks such as, for instance, functionalism and symbolism. However, little research has been conducted from a Bourdieusian phenomenological anthropological perspective focusing on the social and psychological causes and consequences of witchcraft allegations on women’s lives and with a transnational feminist positionality. Accusations of witchcraft are widespread across the Mossi ethnicity in Burkina Faso and primarily target older women who are widows and lived in polygynous households. These women have experienced the worst form of oppression at an age where they are supposed to receive respect and consideration. These accusations exemplify the multiple forms of symbolic violence that women are suffering with fatalism and resignation in a Mossi society that is highly patriarchal and hierarchical. It is an extreme form of symbolic violence intended to control women and to prevent them from transgressing Mossi social norms. Furthermore, the investigation of a specific event of intense witch craze that took place in 2016 in Pilimpikou (Burkina Faso), along with the interviews of both accused and accusers, has revealed the intricate causalities and processes of witchcraft accusation.

The phenomenon of social exclusion of women accused of witchcraft appears to be a profound and traditional practice but is nevertheless a contemporary occurrence that highlights the difficulties of a Mossi society in transition. The number of women in shelters is decreasing as the results of governmental and non-governmental organizations’ programs of rehabilitation and prevention of accusation, but more efforts are necessary to eradicate this form of women’s oppression, as well as long term efforts such as women’s economic development and education to empower women and contribute to the social and economic development of the country.