JSPP Special Thematic Section on "Social Psychologies of Chronicity and Care in African Contexts"

Call for Submissions

25th March 2021

Guest Editors
Professor Ama de-Graft Aikins, University College London, UK
Emerita Professor Catherine Campbell, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK
Professor Ernestina Coast, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK
Associate Professor Lilian Lem Atanga, University of Bamenda, Cameroon
Dr Anthea Lesch, Stellenbosch University, South Africa


This JSPP Special Section seeks to advance actionable social psychological conceptualisations of chronicity and care in continental and diaspora Africa contexts to inform urgently needed innovations in intervention and policy for chronic conditions.

Prevalence rates of chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs), mental health disorders, neurocognitive disorders and neurodegenerative diseases are rising globally. African countries and African communities in high income countries (HICs) of Europe and North America bear a disproportionate burden of morbidity and mortality and are predicted to experience the worst outcomes over the coming decades.

The social, cultural, economic and political determinants of NCDs have been widely documented in global health. In African countries, wealthy communities may have higher rates of chronic conditions, but are likely to have access to the best local and transnational health and social care services. Poor communities live with a double burden of chronic and infectious diseases, driven largely by structural inequalities, and negotiate complex barriers to healthcare. For African communities in Europe and North America, high rates of hypertension, diabetes and stroke within low-income groups are associated with poor living, working and social conditions, structural racism and structural barriers to healthcare. These intersectional factors are strongly implicated in the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 in these communities compared to general populations in Europe and North America.

A body of social science research shows that in African settings, as elsewhere, chronic conditions disrupt and transform the lives of sufferers, carers and families in complex and unpredictable ways, and restructure the capabilities of communities and health systems. However this field is dominated by cross-sectional and descriptive case studies, which under-examine and under-theorise the complex trajectories of chronic illness experiences, and culturally situated understandings of chronicity and care across African communities.1  Furthermore, while many studies use psychological concepts in empirical analyses, they focus on mainstream socio-cognitive theories, such as the health belief model and knowledge-attitude behaviour frameworks. Chronicity maps subjective, intersubjective and social journeys as chronically ill individuals navigate self-care and healthcare at home, in local care networks, in healthcare facilities and wider institutions such as the workplace and places of worship. It takes on multi-level disruptions at the levels of self (physical, mental, biographical) and society (health systems capabilities, political will). What is required is the critical social psychology approach that focuses on the interface between individual and society as the unit of analysis, and forces simultaneous nuanced examination of the power of society, culture and institutions and the agency of individuals and communities.

Much of the small body of existing theorisations of care emerge from research in High Income Countries (HICs) in Europe and North America and cultural contexts which have limited relevance to African settings.2 Framed by a western lexicon of care and caring, they take the form of overly psychological readings of illness experiences and care in HICs, and overly cultural readings in low and middle income countries (LMICs) (in Africa and Asia in particular) (e.g the problematic binaries between individualistic and collectivistic societies). Such approaches tend to draw on an unproblematised notion of care as a neutral descriptive lens through which to focus on specific examples of chronic illness - such as diabetes, schizophrenia, dementia or reproductive health problems. The illness serves as the primary focus, with little interrogation of the concept of care. Furthermore this work often locates caring against a background of narrowly defined and decontextualized local communities, in ways that render some groups invisible (e.g children, men, the elderly and chronically ill individuals who provide care). Existing systems of healthcare provision, policy-making and funding are taken as givens, rather than as crucial determinants of the processes and outcomes of local caring efforts that demand critical examination. This lack of attention to local contexts and concepts of care limits the potential of research findings to inform transformational policy and interventions.

The current evidence points to a need for holistic health models that go beyond global health recommendations of biomedical health systems strengthening and lifestyle modification. We define holistic in multi-level intersectional terms: covering the relationships across levels of social organisation (self, society, culture), the environment (natural, supernatural) and institutional/structural forces (history, politics, religion, economics); and how these feature in the everyday lives and actions of individuals and families affected by long-term illness and care responsibilities. Holistic models must be sensitive to the social, cultural, structural and historical determinants of health, pay particular attention to the challenges of facilitating health-enabling social conditions with local representations as a guide, and apply social justice principles particularly in poor and marginalised communities. Chronicity has to be examined along the continuum, and intersections, of precarity and privilege – from everyday strategies in poor and wealthy families to policy negotiations, framing and funding of ‘NCD control’ between national and global health actors.

Against this background this special section calls for research papers that provide new and critical insights into the social psychologies of chronicity and care in African contexts. We seek contributions that report on research into lived experiences of chronic conditions and of caring and being cared for at different levels (from self-care to institutional care) and in a variety of continental, diaspora and transnational African settings. Papers can examine the micro- and meso-levels of individual and inter-individual caring experiences and relationships, with their embodied, emotional, relational and temporal dimensions within specific local settings. Papers can also explore how these dynamics are framed and mediated by the macro-level social, political, economic and global contexts in which caring experiences are located. We also seek contributions that demonstrate how knowledge about African social and health realities is constructed. This might include mapping the unequal power dynamics and struggles that shape NCD research agendas and health policy development and implementation, now and historically; or examining the complexities of language across socio-political domains – interrogating the translations between inherited colonial languages of English, French and Portuguese used in expert worlds and the indigenous languages and concepts that shape field research.

Whilst our call is by no means restricted to the following issues, we would welcome:

  • Papers examining the concept of chronicity, through a focus on experiences of the most prevalent chronic illnesses in African communities (hypertension, diabetes, stroke, cancers, dementia), or infectious diseases and acute illnesses with chronic impact (e.g. Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), COVID-19), or marginalised chronic conditions (e.g sickle-cell disease, reproductive health problems), or the impact of disruptive life circumstances (poverty, food insecurity, conflict) on mental health
  • Papers focusing on under-researched African communities, particularly in diaspora contexts, such as undocumented migrants, elderly people in care, the homeless and people with multiple and intersecting health conditions
  • Papers presenting longitudinal studies of chronicity – focusing on local understandings and on experiences across timescales or lifespans or generations.
  • Papers addressing how best to characterise what constitute care-enabling social contexts in particular settings – ranging from families, households and communities to national health policymaking spaces, including the framing of care by political and economic factors and through global health discourse.
  • Papers reporting on ‘practice-based knowledge’ – bottom-up understandings of care that are rooted in the everyday actions and behaviour of donors and recipients of care, or in action-research focusing on the implementation and impacts of care-related interventions and policies on donors and recipients.
  • In line with calls for indigenising psychology theory and practice in Africa and for Africans, we are particularly interested in studies informed by ‘indigenous theories’, ‘theory from the south’, and foregrounding local languages and philosophies; and those proposing new indigenous theories.
  • We particularly welcome submissions by early career psychologists based in Africa and multidisciplinary writing teams that include psychologists.

Timeline/deadlines:

  • Abstract screening: 28th May 2021 (extended abstracts of up to 750 words to be submitted to the Guest Editors at a.de-graft-aikins@ucl.ac.uk)
  • Abstract review responses to authors: 4th June 2021
  • Manuscript submissions: 31st August 2021 (submit manuscripts via the JSSP online portal at https://jspp.psychopen.eu/index.php/jspp)
  • Review responses to authors: 31st October 2021
  • Revised paper submissions: 30th December 2021
  • Submission of full set of papers & editorial: 31st January 2022

Abstract submission procedure

  • Extended abstracts should be submitted initially to the Guest Editors at: a.de-graft-aikins@ucl.ac.uk
  • Abstracts should be no longer than 750 words and should include up to 5 references
  • Abstract submission deadline: 28th May 2021
  • Emails should be titled “JSPP Social Psychologies of Chronicity and Care”

1de-Graft Aikins, A., Baatiema, L., & Allotey-Reidpath, C. (2020). Lived experiences of chronic noncommunicable diseases in Africa: A qualitative meta-synthesis. PROSPERO 2020 CRD42020164591; de-Graft Aikins, A., Baatiema, L., & Allotey-Reidpath, C. (2019). Qualitative meta-syntheses of research on lived experiences of chronic conditions among African communities in Europe, North America and other countries in the “Global North”. PROSPERO 2019 CRD42019162565.
2 Campbell, C., Andersen, L., Mutsikiwa, A., Madanhire, C., Nyamukapa, C., & Gregson, S. (2016). Can schools support HIV/AIDS-affected children? Exploring the ‘ethic of care’ amongst Rural Zimbabwean teachers. PLoS ONE 11(1): e0146322. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0146322