How is it possible to grasp stories and meanings communicated through bodily and emotional pain? Here, you will meet women who master the art of embodied storytelling. Through symptomatic expressions, symptomspeak, they share critical messages about Kosovo’s violent past and, through the past, about both the present and the future that are otherwise difficult, if not impossible to hear.

Pain, potentiality and worldmaking in the aftermath of war


Pain falls upon us, threatening to rob us of our language. It is destructive, leaving traceable scars on our bodies and minds; it confronts us with the uncanny and fearful.[1] Pain also opens up possibilities for being, doing, speaking, and thinking otherwise.[2] Being in pain is not a totalising experience that materialises seemingly out of nowhere. It means being immersed in temporary situations that manifest locally in the body and mind, dispersing as they merge to form new assemblages, and slip away only to then re-emerge transformed.[3] Being in pain is a form of engagement with […]

Msysh: The power of the eye


Patiently Edona explained to me, “Evil eye gets unleashed when someone thinks ‘Oh this is good, this is nice.’ It will also happen when someone thinks that you are looking good or pretty and, finally, it can occur when someone wishes that her son or daughter would look just as good as you do.”

Then she got up from her couch and shuffled towards the window to look out over her busy farmyard where her lively grandchildren were chasing each other around the farm machinery that her sons were in the process of repairing. Turning around, she warned: “This is the power of […]

Mërzitna: A conspiracy of emotion


Emotion and talk about emotion are “simultaneously embodied and discursive ways of commenting on the possibilities, limitations, frustrations, and outcomes which an individual faces in engaging with the totality of experience.”[1] As anthropologist Christina Zarowsky notes, emotions convey “the circumstances with which an individual has no choice but to engage.” They can be conceived of as avenues through which to understand social ruptures and injustice, to recognize social pains, misery and hardship, and to be receptive to demands for action.

I learned about emotion talk during my research in Kosovo. Women engaged with it to bring to the fore memories of […]

The politics of nerves

The politics of nerves

“All of us are nervoz since the war.”

“How can we not feel nervoz after what we went through?”

Women who had survived the Kosovo War and struggled to rebuild their lives in its aftermath evoked nerves to express their distress, marginalisation and alienation connected to painful memories of war, economic hardship and disadvantage.[1] They also used nerves to negotiate little freedoms, advance life goals, and bring about societal change.[2]

Nervoz has two meanings in colloquial Albanian.

The first refers to a sentiment of irritability and anger.

One can be nervoz about someone or something without necessarily developing symptoms that affect […]

Symptom Lexicon


The activity of list-making is an eclectic process that enables us to draw on varied, fragmentary sources, and simultaneously negotiate their meaning. It allows us to admire the creative potential of what is accumulated as we begin to see the items listed within historically changing conversations.[1]  It incites memories and enables us to exchange stories. The anthropologist Anna Tsing has referred to lists as harbouring “codified knowledge.” They reveal insights into sensitive historical and socio-political concerns and enable historically marginalized people to create their place in negotiations for their resources and rights.

As part of my own research about the impact […]

Voices of Pain


my head is split

there is a stone in my stomach

I am worried

my neck hurts

my back hurts

heat moves up in my body

I feel cold

my mouth pulls to the side

I can’t move my arm

I am afraid to go blind

the tears keep coming

I feel nervous

my blood goes up

my heart races

I can’t sleep

I can’t wake up


this is the language of SymptomSpeak

a language that is fragmented, exhausting and unbearable


Utterances of Distress





Blood pressure



Sleeping problems


Back pain

Impaired eyesight

Heart problems

Stomach pain


Neck pain

Breathing problems

Chest pain

Feeling cold


Eating problems

Losing one’s mind



Losing consciousness

Lack of energy


Noises in the head

Suicidal thoughts






Losing one’s head



Nervous Talk and Magic


“I get nervoz a lot.” Shkurta tells me, looking out the window onto the snowy farmyard.

I had meant to start small talk by asking her how she was doing; but, a reference to “nerves” doesn’t allow the space for this. Instead, it creates an opportunity for women to describe their pain and suffering as well as their dissatisfaction and frustration with the wider context of their experience within the family, the community, and the state.

So, I asked: “What happens when you feel that way?”

“I have headaches, I have low blood pressure, I have nervoz. Sometimes, something sour comes up and I feel […]

International Day of the Disappeared – Torn between Hope and Despair


Today is the International Day of the Disappeared. Sitting on the floor, with our backs pressed against the couch, Teuta and I watch televised pictures of hundreds of people marching through Kosovo’s major cities demanding to know the fate of their loved ones. Women, dressed in black, solemnly carry oversized portraits of their husbands, sons, and fathers. White banners are held high calling for truth and justice from local and international authorities as the sounds of wreath ceremonies, interviews, and speeches, echo in the room.

Behind us, on the living room wall, hangs a large frame with the portraits and names of fourteen […]

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