From the Archive: “Exposure and Exclusion: Disenfranchised Biological Citizenship among the First-Generation Korean Americans”

This week on the blog we are featuring an article from a past issue of the journal as part of our “From the Archive” series. In this highlight, we explore “Exposure and Exclusion: Disenfranchised Biological Citizenship among the First-Generation Korean Americans” by Taewoo Kim, Charlotte Haney, and Janis Faye Hutchinson, available here. This article was featured in Volume 36, Issue 4 (December 2012).


In the midst of an uncertain future of health insurance in the United States, it is important to reflect on how larger social systems affect individual experiences of health and illness. Our contributing authors at Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry frequently express the need for ethnographic approaches to healthcare analysis. In this article, the authors documented how the healthcare system in the United States in 2012 disenfranchised those of marginal health insurance status. Based on fieldwork with a highly uninsured and underinsured Korean American population, the authors argued that the vulnerability of these disenfranchised biological citizens is compounded through exposure to health risks and exclusion from essential healthcare.

According to the authors, the first-generation Korean Americans interviewed faced the double burden of increased health risks from long, stressful work hours and lack of access to healthcare due to the prohibitive costs of health insurance for small business owners. Even as their health needs became critical, their insurance status and costly medical bills discouraged them from visiting healthcare institutions.

Based on a multi-sited ethnography of Korean–American communities in Houston, Texas, and Los Angeles, California, this study attempted to describe the condition of marginal insurance in the United States. The authors trace health risks among Korean Americans from “daily life to life in crisis.” By mapping the connections from an unequal social structure where risks are unevenly distributed, to the disproportionate prevalence of disease, the authors discuss the impact of inequality on the bodies of the disenfranchised population.

The authors build off of Nikolas Rose’s term biological citizen, defined as encompassing “all those citizenship projects that have linked their conceptions of citizens to beliefs about the biological existence of human beings.” The authors argued that their participants were left out of such developments and strategies due to the participants’ place in the employment structure and healthcare payment schemes. The high concentration of small business owners among the first-generation Korean Americans led to long work hours in risk-laden conditions as well as high rates of marginal insurance driven by sky-rocketing private health insurance costs. These risks were compounded by limited access to appropriate preventive measures and medical intervention.

This combination of exposure to precarious working conditions and exclusion from healthcare increases Korean Americans’ vulnerability, particularly to chronic illnesses including hypertension, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease. These conditions are the bio-devaluation that results from biological disenfranchisement.

Through detailed ethnographic research with uninsured and underinsured Korean Americans working in family-run businesses, the article focused on the daily practice of “doing-without-health,” pushing the discussion of barriers to healthcare-seeking toward an examination of how those barriers cultivate subjectivities of disenfranchised biological citizenship. The authors also describe how such disenfranchisement multiplies the participants’ vulnerabilities by exposing them to disproportionate health risks and excluding them from essential care.

First, the authors examined the daily-lived experience of risk exposure. Social and economic contexts of risk included the uneven distribution of economic activities and opportunities that Korean Americans face after immigration. The authors discussed several circumstances which contributed to social and economic risks, such as institutional barriers which disregarded educational attainments and professional experiences in South Korea, linguistic barriers, already difficult and stratified economics in the United States, stressed relationships with the surrounding communities, and fear of robbery and theft. These factors exposed the Korean American participants to health risks, such as overwork and stress, on a daily basis.

Second, the authors discussed how exclusion from care operated within the studied community settings. Uninsured and underinsured participants experienced discouragement from using healthcare services. A long-term uninsured status and widely circulated stories of financially devastating medical bills create a distance between Korean Americans and healthcare institutions. Underinsured participants similarly encountered healthcare discouragement through high out-of-pocket costs. With tight budgets, underinsured participants feared the high cost of medical care and avoided visiting doctors.

Combined, these factors illuminated the embodiment of the social inequality among uninsured and underinsured Korean Americans; the authors linked exposure to health risks and exclusion from healthcare. Through an ethnographic examination of the daily practice of “doing-without-health” among a marginalized sub-group in society, the authors articulated how disenfranchised biological citizenship goes beyond creating institutional barriers to healthcare and shaping subjectivities of the disenfranchised.

From the Archive: “A Mother’s Heart is Weighed Down with Stones”

In our “From the Archive” series, we highlight an article from a past issue of the journal. In this installment, we explore Sarah Horton’s “A Mother’s Heart is Weighed Down with Stones: A Phenomenological Approach to the Experience of Transnational Motherhood,” available here. This article was featured in Volume 33, Issue 1 (March 2009).


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While there is still considerable confusion and uncertainty surrounding the current state of immigration in the United States and the international movements of people, our journal article authors have continually acknowledged the importance of focusing on the lived experience of individuals within these larger political contexts. In her article, Horton discusses transnational motherhood through the embodied distress of mothers and children, showing that their suffering cannot be examined separately. Through her analysis of the narratives of undocumented Salvadoran mothers living in the United States, Horton explains the pain of these mothers’ undocumented status is experienced within the intersubjective space of the family.

Horton begins by describing Elisabeta, a Salvadoran mother working in the United States while her young son and elderly mother remain in El Salvador. Elisabeta was part of Horton’s research at a Latino mental health clinic in a New England city. Since Elisabeta was unable to hold or touch her young son, Carmelo, she instead carried his photo with her wherever she went. Elisabeta described her life as divided, “I work here but my heart lives there.” This division of “here” and “there” in transnational motherhood is not uncommon for undocumented immigrants who left their children in their home countries.

As the postindustrial, technology-based economy has grown within the U.S., women are increasingly migrating alone to find work in the high-tech sector, reshaping the immigrant family and trans-nationalizing the meaning of motherhood. At the same time, the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) increased both border policing and militarization as well as deportation and family separation in border communities. This meant that mothers working in the U.S. have found it more difficult to be reunited with their children, fearful of the dangerous and expensive crossing for their undocumented children, and the inability of the women to return home to visit. Thus, while many women had originally imagined their separations would be only temporary, the transnational relationship between mother and children can last years.

Horton explains that even though family separation has long been a reality for immigrants, scholarship has often ignored this lived experience as an independent factor of stress and trauma. Further, mental health analyses are frequently positioned at the individual level, and neglect the larger context of how such familial changes and separations are experienced and endured in the inter-subjective space between parents and children. Elisabeta described the aching in her chest when she would speak to her son on the phone each weekend. Later, when her son became seriously ill, Elisabeta felt an acute sense of failure – as both a mother unable to care for her ill son, and as a provider unable to pay for the operation he needed. Elisabeta was often unable to sleep at night, surrounded by thoughts of Carmelo’s words and tears. Horton explains Elisabeta’s vivid narrative expressed her embodied distress of being a transnational mother and the relational nature of the family’s suffering.

Gloria, another immigrant from El Salvador, left to find better economic opportunities after a series of devastating earthquakes in her home town. Gloria decided to leave her birthplace after it had become a space of death and scarcity, and the small business she and her husband had established had been destroyed. “There wasn’t enough food to give the kids. There was no way for me to keep them alive. And so I came here,” she said. For Gloria, and other women Horton interviewed, traumatic events reshaped familiar places and people, and triggered their decisions to migrate. Further trauma of the women having to explain their departures to their children were overwhelming.

The paradox of parenthood for these mothers is often having to choose between either financially supporting their children from a distance or physically being their caretakers. Horton explains that these parents have a profound sense of moral failing, perceiving that their inability to serve as “proper parents” is compounded by the difficulties of succeeding economically. Horton argues that placing these issues of “choice” and “decision making” against the backdrop of limited agency and “illegality” in the U.S. causes the parents’ immobility and powerlessness to reverberate through the space of a family stretched across international borders.

Children left behind in El Salvador often shoulder adult burdens, attempting to either prevent their mothers’ departure or requesting to join their mothers on the dangerous journey to the U.S. According to Horton, when the realization of the uncertainty in their separation becomes overwhelming, children respond to what they perceive as their mothers’ withdrawal of love with their own form of withdrawal. “My daughter then told me she had erased me from her heart, and that she didn’t love me anymore,” Gloria recounted. “El corazon de madre es un monton de piedras.” (“A mother’s heart is weighed down with a mountain of stones.”) This “weighing-down” is the burden Gloria had assumed in suffering the anger of her children while she only wished to protect them from hunger. Horton explains Gloria’s narrative demonstrates that suffering is relational, experienced through social connections and threats of uncertain future relationships. Horton says this transnational separation strains the bond between mother and child, as their distance is experienced both physically and emotionally.

Horton discusses strategies these transnational mothers undertake in order to attempt to substitute their parental presence. One strategy of sending gifts and luxury items, such as a color T.V. or special toys, is a way of feeling as if they are giving their children love and support. Yet this happiness from the fulfillment of financial support is temporary, and quickly overshadowed with sadness as children will often ask when they will be reunited again. Both the mothers and children know the gifts are double-edged, symbolizing the mothers’ love yet justifying their absence.

Horton concludes by calling for researchers to bridge the gap between subjective experiences of families living with separation and objective analyses of structure “illegality” and immigration policies. In hoping for more phenomenological accounts of transnational family life, Horton shows how sociopolitical inequality shapes individual experience and produces patterns of social suffering. She also places transnational mothers’ distress within a larger framework of social conditions that reproduce powerlessness and disadvantage. The sophistication of phenomenological approaches illustrates the ways that undocumented immigrants may experience embodied stress of strained family ties.

From the Archive: Patients-as-Syndromes in Internal Medicine

In our “From the Archive” series, we highlight an article from a past issue of the journal. In this installment, we explore Robert A. Hahn’s piece “‘Treat the patient, not the lab’: Internal medicine and the concept of ‘Person,'” available in full here. This article was featured in Volume 6, Issue 3 (September 1982.)


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Throughout the history of the journal, our authors have turned the same anthropological gaze equally onto both biomedicine and other medical systems. As Hahn introduces this article, he states that the healer in all cultural contexts fashions medical and social truths together, such that the patient and patient body are reinterpreted (and potentially reordered) through medical treatment by the healer. Biomedicine, he states, also recasts illness in ways that alter the medical position of the patient. To understand how physicians of biomedicine engage with patients conceptually in this way, Hahn conducted an ethnographic study of four internists. As internal medicine is often characterized as highly rationalistic and thus emblematic of biomedical practice, Hahn argues, he states that understanding the internists’ perspectives may shed light more broadly on biomedicine as a particular method of envisioning illness and its relationship to the patient.

Hahn begins by positing that the nature of internal medicine as a profession itself is a form of interpretation of what constitutes the patient and body over which it has medical purview. Internal medicine does not focus on mental health (psychiatry) or on the internal visceral body (surgery.) Thus, the “body” it treats exists in relative isolation from the mind, yet is not a physical or functional body such as the one manipulated directly through surgery. The conditions internists treat exist apart from the person and, to a degree, from the patient’s body: instead, the internist focuses on internal diseases and pathologies that become entities of treatment divorced from the individual receiving care. These illnesses– forged into concrete ontological “things”– are countered with similarly material antidotes. Hahn adds that the prestigious status of the internist in the culture of clinical practice, both currently and historically, lends this physiologically-based view of the body and its treatment significant legitimacy in the biomedical landscape.

To demonstrate these concepts, Hahn presents the case of internist Dr. Barry Siegler. “Barry,” as he comes to be called, repeatedly instructs his residents and other clinicians to be wary of individual metrics and lab results, as these single numbers and tests cannot be incrementally fixed: rather, he contends, they must be examined and addressed in concert such that the whole patient is successfully treated. Hahn describes this as relational knowledge of pathology, rather than “singly” reading and responding to individual metrics. However, Barry does not mean to champion holistic, person-centered care: instead, he posits that the entire patient should serve as the point of focus such that no aspect of the patient’s pathology is excluded from diagnosis and subsequent treatment. For example, Barry argues that the patient interview is a tool for the extraction of cues that would lead the clinician to better understand the etiology and symptomatology at hand.

Thus the patient’s “syndrome” comes to exist as a materially and ontologically “real” entity that is distinct from the social, personal, and existential contexts of the patient’s life. This perspective is crystallized in Barry’s tendency to refer to patients as their diseases, such as “a conversion reaction.” He also refers to patients he believes to have mental illness in the same manner, such as the “neurotic,” although he admits that psychiatric pathologies are a “Pandora’s box” beyond the limits of his professional power to address. Again, the patient as a person (and even as a subject or individual mind) fades as the disease pathologies that characterize their illness are reified and made the central objects of the internist’s medical gaze. Due to the close alignment between physiology and organic sciences (chemistry and biology), Hahn notes that the internist’s ontological transformation of the patient into their pathologies– and the pathologies into discrete objects of attention– are deemed especially real, true, and justifiable. Likewise, the body itself is interpreted as a closed, contained system that becomes the object of internal medicine: the ‘whole patient’ is instead the ‘whole pathophysiology.’

Hahn concludes that this vision of the body is decidedly Western: it individualizes the body, and makes a Cartesian division between the body (physical) and the mind (psychological, social) such that it is made treatable and conceptually readable by internists who isolate it from other contexts and who distinguish diseases as concrete, material things. The article ultimately suggests that certain biomedical visions of the body and appropriate patterns for treatment may not align with the perspectives of patients, who understand their illness within the social, spiritual, cultural, and other frameworks that structure their daily lives.

 

Blog Archive: Neuropsychiatry and Culture

This week on the blog, we revisit a guest commentary piece written last year by M. Ariel Cascio, PhD (originally posted here.) Dr. Cascio is an anthropologist specializing in the cultural study of science and biomedicine, psychological anthropology, and the anthropology of youth. Her research explores the biopolitical dimensions of autism and autism-related services in northern Italy. She can be reached at ariel.cascio@case.edu.

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In the 21st century, anthropologists and allied scholars talk frequently of the biologization, cerebralization or neurologization of psychiatry. Many make reference to the 1990s, the “Decade of the Brain” that closed out the last century. They talk about “brain diseases” as a dominant discourse in discussions of mental illness. The 2014 Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association hosted a panel on “reflections on mind and body in the era of the ‘cerebral subject.’” In these and other ways, scholars write and talk about increasing dominance of brain discourses in discussion of psychological and psychiatric topics. This dominance has historical roots, for example in German (Kraepelinian) psychiatry, and authors in Culture, Medicine & Psychiatry and elsewhere have written about the historical context and local manifestations of this dominance of the neurological in the psy- sciences.

In this blog post I explore a situation in which neurology and psychiatry have long co-existed: the Italian field of neuropsychiatry. While the field “neuropsychiatry” is not unknown in the United States, and similar terms are used in other countries as well, I offer some comments specifically on the Italian context. The example of Italian neuropsychiatry provides one case of a particular historical relationship between neurology, psychiatry, and psychology that would be of interest to any historical or anthropological scholars of psychiatry.

The Italian medical system distinguishes between neuropsychiatry and psychiatry, neuropsichiatria infantile and psichiatria. Neuropsichiatria infantile (child neuropsychiatry), abbreviated NPI but sometimes referred to simply as neuropsichiatria (neuropsychiatry), addresses neurological, psychiatric, and developmental problems in children under age 18. Psichiatria (psychiatry) treats adults starting at age 18. As such, it is tempting to simply distinguish child and adult psychiatry. However, neuropsychiatry and psychiatry actually have distinct origins and practices. As the names imply, neuropsychiatry links neurology and psychiatry. Adult psychiatry, however, does not.

While Italian psychiatry has its roots in early 19th century organicist and biological approaches, in the 1960s a younger generation of psychiatrists, most prominently Franco Basaglia, aligned themselves with phenomenology and existential psychiatry. These psychiatrists crystallized their ideas into the ideology of Psichiatra Democratica (Democratic Psychiatry) and the initiative of “Basaglia’s Law,” the 1978 Law 180 which began Italy’s process of deinstitutionalization, generally considered to be very successful (Donnelly 1992). While childhood neuropsychiatry is indeed the counterpart to adult psychiatry, more than just the age group served differentiates these fields. If Italian psychiatry has its roots in Basaglia and the ideology of democratic psychiatry, neuropsychiatry has its roots at the turn of the 20th century, in the works of psychiatrist Sante de Sanctis, psychopedagogue Giuseppe F. Montesano, and pedagogue Maria Montessori.

In this way, neuropsychiatry’s origins bridged psychiatry and pedagogy (Bracci 2003; Migone 2014). Giovanni Bollea has been called the father of neuropsychiatry for his role in establishing the professional after World War II (Fiorani 2011; Migone 2014). Fiorani (2011) traces the use of the term neuropsychiatry (as opposed to simply child psychiatry, for example) to Bollea’s desire to honor the distinctly Italian tradition and legacy following Sante de Sanctis.

Several features distinguish psychiatry and neuropsychiatry. Migone (2014) argues that child neuropsychiatry has taken more influence from French psychoanalytic schools, whereas adult psychiatry has taken more influence from first German and then Anglo-Saxon psychiatries. Migone further explains:

Child and adolescent psychiatry in Italy is therefore characterized by a reduced use of medications (if compared to the United States), and by a diffuse use of dynamic psychotherapy, both individual and family therapy (from the mid-1970s systemic therapy spread). The attention to the family and the social environment is extremely important for understand the clinical case during the developmental years. [My translation]

Moreover, neuropsychiatry is known for being multidisciplinary and working in equipe, teams of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and so on. It incorporates psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, dynamic psychology, psychological testing, social interventions, and more (Fiorani 2011).

This extremely brief overview outlines key characteristics of Italian neuropsychiatry and the ways it is distinguished from Italian psychiatry, as well as from U.S. psychiatry. Italian neuropsychiatry provides one example of a long-standing relationship between neurology, psychiatry, psychology, philosophy, and pedagogy. By drawing attention to this medical specialty and the complexities of the different fields it addresses, I hope to have piqued the interest of historical and anthropological scholars. I include English and Italian language sources for further reading below.

References and Further Reading – English

Donnelly, Michael. 1992. The Politics of Mental Health in Italy. London ; New York: Routledge.

Feinstein, Adam. 2010. A History of Autism: Conversations with the Pioneers. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Levi, Gabriel, and Paola Bernabei. 1997. Italy. In Handbook of Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorders. 2nd edition. Donald J. Cohen and Fred R. Volkmar, eds. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.

Nardocci, Franco. 2009. The Birth of Child and Adolescent Neuropsychiatry: From Rehabilitation and Social Inclusion of the Mentally Handicapped, to the Care of Mental Health during Development. Ann Ist Super Sanità 45: 33–38.

References and Further Reading – Italian

Bracci, Silvia. 2003. Sviluppo della neuropsichiatria in Italia ed Europa. Storia delle istituzioni psichiatriche per l’infanzia. In L’Ospedale psichiatrico di Roma. Dal Manicomio Provinciale alla Chiusura. Antonio Iaria, Tommaso Losavio, and Pompeo Martelli, eds. Pp. 145–161. Bari: Dedalo.

Fiorani, Matteo. 2011. Giovanni Bollea, 1913-2011: Per Una Storia Della Neuropsichiatria Infantile in Italia. Medicina & Storia 11(21/22): 251–276.

Migone, Paolo. 2014. Storia Della Neuropsichiatria Infantile (prima Parte). Il Ruolo Terapeutico 125: 55–70.

Russo, Concetta, Michele Capararo, and Enrico Valtellina. 2014. A sé e agli altri. Storia della manicomializzazione dell’autismo e delle altre disabilità relazionali nelle cartelle cliniche di S. Servolo. 1. edizione. Milano etc.: Mimesis.

 

From the Archive: Revisiting Neurasthenia in Japan

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In 1989, our June special issue centered on the theme of neurasthenia: an illness category made most recognizable in current medical anthropology by Arthur Kleinman in his book Social Origins of Stress and Disease: Depression, Neurasthenia, and Pain in Modern China (1988.) Neurasthenia is a flexible diagnosis that encompasses a set of broad psychosomatic symptoms: fatigue, emotional unease, irritability, and bodily pains. It has fallen in and out of favor throughout history, yet in China and other Asian countries, it continues to be used to describe psychiatric distress. The special issue was published during the final year of Kleinman’s tenure as the editor-in-chief of Culture, Medicine & Psychiatry, and represents the culmination of research carried out throughout Asia on the diagnosis and treatment of the illness. You can access the full issue here.


 

The focus of this From the Archive feature is Tomonori Suzuki’s article on the diagnosis and treatment of neurasthenia in Japan. Unlike China, where neurasthenia continued to be clinically relevant through Kleinman’s research in the 1980s-1990s, the disease category fell out of its original use in Japan following World War II. Suzuki writes that this shift was not directly due to changes in Western psychiatry, in which European and American physicians replaced ‘neurasthenia’ with new categories under the umbrellas of neuroses, depression, or anxiety. These shifts may have influenced psychiatric disease models elsewhere, but in Japan, neurasthenia was instead rebranded and treated via a different historical pathway.

Morita, a renowned Japanese psychiatrist who lived in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, was the first to suggest that neurasthenia was not exogenous: in other words, it did not stem from social disorder on the outside, but from psychological unrest within the mind. His therapeutic regimen for this newly-conceived “neurasthenia” became widely adopted, even into the contemporary age. Thus neurasthenia– while formally removed from the diagnostic lexicon– took a new form with an accompanying treatment as proposed by Morita.

Following WWII, when Japanese medical practitioners did begin to employ American principles of psychiatry, clinicians began to replace “neurasthenia” with the new category “neurosis.” Although this aligned with shifts in the nature of treatment that occurred in other places where biomedicine was practiced, Japan was unique in that many patients labeled as neurotic nevertheless sought out Morita therapy: a treatment initially designed to ameliorate an illness closer to the original form of neurasthenia. Some patients also opted for Naikan therapy, another indigenous psychotherapy based on Buddhist principles similar to those woven into the practice of Morita therapies. While the importation of “Western” diagnoses of neurosis brought with it accompanying forms of therapy native to Europe and North American, Morita and Naikan proved to be durable therapies equipped to treat Japanese patients with illnesses somewhere within the neuroses-neurasthenia spectrum.

Although the author notes that the use of these therapies (in the 1980s) could decline as Western models of psychotherapy continue to spread, Suzuki’s research into Japanese psychiatry practice revealed that many patients continued to seek out indigenous Morita and Naikan therapies. The two treatments’ focus on inner self-mastery, connectedness to the social and physical worlds, and the minimization rather than elimination of symptoms echo native Japanese spiritual beliefs, making these therapies legitimate alternatives to imported models of treatment. In sum, though the category for neurasthenia changed across time, foreign models for the conceptualization of mental illness did not always neatly correspond to foreign models for treatment. For the Japanese, local therapies such as Morita and Naikan proved to be quite resilient, as the therapies adapted to address psychiatric disorders despite the repackaging of mental illness into new forms.

 

From the Archive: Global Health, Biomedical Difference, and Medical Training

In our “From the Archive” series, we revisit articles from past issues of the journal. In this installment, we review Betsey Brada’s article “‘Not Here’: Making the Spaces and Subjects of ‘Global Health’ in Botswana,” from the June 2011 special issue on the theme of “Anthropologies of Clinical Training in the 21st Century.”

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What do we mean when we employ the term “global health,” particularly about the nature of caregiving in other cultural contexts? In her ethnographic research at a training hospital in Botswana, Betsey Brada posits one theory of the term as engaged with by medical and pre-medical students, missionary doctors, resident medical staff, and other key clinicians at the field site. Brada finds that while global health is often narrowly defined as biomedicine performed in “resource poor” or “resource limited” regions, this definition in fact relies intensely on a complex, comparative understanding of place, technology, and biomedical skill.

For example, Brada describes one case where a German man on vacation in Botswana broke his leg and required surgery. Upon returning to his home country for a follow-up examination of his healing leg, the man’s physicians were surprised at the skill of the procedure, remarking that it was commendable given that it was performed abroad. The German physicians had therefore assumed that care in a “resource limited” context was correspondingly of a lower quality than biomedical care delivered in a developed country, even though clinicians often tout the “universality” of biomedicine as a cultural boundary-crossing (if not hegemonic) mode of scientific healing. The medical staff in Botswana remarked that many physicians in developed countries believed biomedicine in the developing world to be crude, simplistic, and backwards: even though staff members at the Botswana hospital had been trained at advanced facilities across the world, many of them in developed countries.

Students studying and volunteering at the hospital were also repeatedly instructed in lectures to understand the differences between pharmaceutical use in the United States versus medications available in Botswana. American physicians described an extensive list of common medication available in the hospital’s pharmacy in terms of how it was no longer used in the United States, but had to suffice “here.” This example, too, underscores the tangled relationships between space, technology, and an understanding of global biomedicine primarily in terms of nations offering cutting-edge care versus those countries that had, in their perspectives, fallen behind.

Brada also argues that medical anthropology and linguistic anthropology have much to contribute to one another, although the disciplines are not often engaged in scholarly conversation. She notes that the careful analysis of language used to distinguish “here” (Botswana) from the developed world, including the United States and Europe, demonstrates the division between spaces that is central to definitions of global health as given in biomedicine. Brada asserts that an understanding of “global health” only emerges whenever we attend to the terminology that physicians, staff, and students use to separate medicine in the developed world, from medical standards implemented on the global scale by the WHO, to the terms used to describe medical care in local, foreign contexts.

The June 2011 special issue features other fascinating articles that address the cultural situatedness of biomedical knowledge, and how medical concepts are translated to future clinical practitioners. To learn more about this issue, see the links below.


To find the article and abstract on our Spring site, click here: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11013-011-9209-z

For the full special issue, including links to other articles in the June 2011 installment, click here: http://link.springer.com/journal/11013/35/2/page/1

From the Archive: Eating Disorders Amongst Japanese Women

In our “From the Archive” series, we revisit an article published in past issues of Culture, Medicine & Psychiatry. This week, we’re highlighting a piece on eating disorders in Japan, originally featured in our December 2004 issue.

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Kathleen Pike and Amy Borovoy’s article “The Rise of Eating Disorders in Japan: Issues of Culture and Limitations of the Model of ‘Westernization'” makes a poignant case for the importance of context when examining eating disorders across the world. In this piece, they argue that studies of eating disorders abroad have often attributed the etiology of these illnesses to an increasing visibility and presence of Western beauty standards that accompany the spread of new technologies, medias, and communication tools. While Western beauty ideals have been problematically exported to the non-Western and developing worlds in other cases, Pike and Borovoy suggest that this model does not account for the experience of eating disorders in Japan.

Westernization and modernization, they note, are two distinct processes: and Japan, which has developed economically but retained many of its traditional social roles, exemplifies this difference. Modernization is the process of economic and technological development as a nation shifts from traditional to modern (often, mechanized). Westernization may be defined as the process of integrating the lifestyle, values, and experiences of Western cultures into the fabric of society, especially during periods of modernization and economic change.

Despite the drive for modernization, Japanese women are still expected to be homemakers and mothers rather than career women in the new economy. The Japanese have not adopted the individualistic and feministic sensibilities of the Western world, and the domestic burden– both caring for the home and children, and tending to older family members– squarely falls upon wives and mothers. This creates enormous stress for young women, who wish to extend their adolescent years and savor the freedom between childhood and their adult lives, as defined by marrying and becoming a homemaker. Modernization allows young Japanese women to obtain jobs, travel widely, and earn an education, but traditional social roles do not create a space for women to enjoy such a designated period of freedom without familial commitment. The inevitability of domestic life, then, is ever-present in the lives of women who yearn for fewer responsibilities– even if just for a time. This creates feelings of distress, unease, or unhappiness in many young women.

Pike and Borovoy observe that Japanese women do not reject food (anorexic behavior) or induce vomiting (bulimic behavior) out of a desire for thinness or due to fat phobia, as women with eating disorders almost universally experience in Western nations. Rather, Japanese women stress that they reject food because it worsens their digestive complaints, which are connected to the anxiety and stress they feel out of dissatisfaction with their social role (or lack thereof.) The tension between women’s expected social functions, and their desire to live and work in some other way, therefore spurs disordered eating within this broader frame of mental distress.

As we see, women’s experiences of Japanese eating disorders are entwined in the fabric of traditional social life, and not rooted exclusively in imported ideas of the body, independence, and individualism per the Western way of life. Indeed, the non-fat phobic symptomatology of eating disorders reflects the essential differences between Japanese women with eating disorders and their peers in Western nations. The study highlights the centrality of culture in studies of mental illness, and the way that these conditions emerge out of a local social world.


To find the full article online, click here: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11013-004-1066-6