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Vol 2 No 3: December issue

The poet’s melancholy: Depression, structures of feeling, and creativity among Afghan refugees in Iran

  • Zuzanna Olszewska
April 29, 2015
November 6, 2020


This article considers the relationship between depressed affect, a long-term refugee situation, and poetry among Afghan refugees in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Based on ethnographic fieldwork on the changing subjectivities of Afghan refugee poets, it explores the relationship between a perception of collective suffering, individual mental distress, and creativity in this community. Rather than establishing diagnostic criteria for depression among Afghans, the article is mostly concerned with the social and cultural ripples of psychological distress resulting from decades of war, displacement, and marginalization in the host country. It seeks to complicate biomedical understandings of depression by drawing on anthropological studies of dysphoria in Iran and on the collective experience of social suffering and structural violence. Through a discussion of four poets and their work, it explores the productive aspects of depression and the therapeutic, political, and transcendental potential of writing poetry.