The evil eye has received considerable attention in the literature of disciplines as diverse as anthropology and medicine. Researchers have attempted to identify and explain this essentially ambiguous and variable phenomenon from a number of perspectives - as a culture-bound syndrome, an idiom of distress, a mechanism of social control, and a representation of psychobiological fear. In Mal'uocchiu: Ambiguity, Evil Eye, and the Language of Distress, Sam Migliore shifts the focus of discussion from paradigms to a practical examination of how people use the notion of the evil eye in a variety of sociocultural contexts, particularly in various aspects of Sicilian-Canadian culture and experience.
Drawing on the theories of Luigi Pirandello and Ludwig Wittgenstein, Migliore argues that mal'uocchiu, and by implication other folk constructs, is like a character in search of an author to give it 'form' or 'meaning.' The book begins by considering the indeterminate nature of the evil-eye complex. Migliore proposes that this indeterminacy allows people to create myriad alternative meanings and messages to define and make sense of their personal experiences. He then examines how the evil eye relates to Sicilian-Canadian conceptions of health and illness, and discusses treatment and prevention strategies. Throughout the study, the author blends context-setting, case studies, personal recollection, and interpretation to provide readers with an accessible, alternative look at the multifaceted nature of this folk tradition. His position as both an anthropologist and a community 'insider' affords him a unique perspective on the subject. This study will be essential reading for students of medical anthropology, religion, and ethnic studies.