AAA 2015 Sessions: The Anthropology of Mental Health Care

Beginning last Fall 2014, we began compiling lists of sessions at the Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association that we thought would be of interest to our readers attending the conference. These sessions included topics such as drug use and abuse, reproductive medicine, and global health. This year, we again feature our series on the upcoming conference, to be held November 18-22 in Denver, Colorado (more information here.) You can also browse last week’s installment of the blog, where we highlighted sessions on biomedicine and the body at the upcoming Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) meeting, also in Denver, to be held November 11-14 (details here.) This week, we present three paper sessions on the anthropology of mental health care. The sessions are organized chronologically by time and date.

Image via AAA Website

Image via AAA Website

Re-Institutionalizing Care: Anthropological Engagements with Mental Health Courts and Alternative Forensic Psychiatry Interventions in North America

Saturday, November 21st 10:15am-12:00pm (details about this session.)

Topics in this session will include racial disparities in a mental health court in Canada; the relationship between criminal justice officials, psychiatric crisis, and mental health; dogma and psychiatry; and mental health care reform. The session lists itself as particularly of note to applied and practicing anthropologists, especially those with an interest in mental health care, policy, and reform.

From the Streets to the Asylum: Medicalizing Vulnerable Children

Saturday, November 21st 10:15am-12:00pm (details about this session.)

This session includes work on the following topics: humanitarian care and child homelessness in Cairo, Egypt; drug use and treatment amongst juvenile prisoners in Brazil; immigrant youth and mental health in France; and notions of American childhood in the context of mental health. Though the session is sponsored by the Anthropology of Children and Youth Interest Group, its topics overlap with many contemporary issues in medical anthropology and the social study of mental health care.

Making Sense of Mental Health Amidst Rising Rural Social Inequality in North America: Class, Race, and Identity in Treatment-Seeking

Saturday, November 21st, 1:45pm-3:30pm (details about this session.)

Presenters in this session will speak on these issues: mental health and poverty in rural New England; mental health and prescription drug abuse in Appalachia; citizenship and mental health in Oklahoma; care access in remote Alaskan communities; community mental health activism; and inequity and depression in rural Kentucky. These sessions will be of interest to scholars of social justice and medicine, as well as those studying mental health care access and the culture of psychiatry in the United States.

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AAA 2014: Perspectives on the Bruno Latour Distinguished Lecture

This year at the American Anthropological Association 2014 Meeting, Bruno Latour was invited to deliver the distinguished lecture. Entitled “Anthropology at the Time of the Anthropocene,” Latour discusses the rise in the term anthropocene to describe our current stage of natural history. Although the term makes reference to how “human” (anthro) our current age may be, Latour jests that this term was introduced by geologists, not social scientists. In the anthropocene, it is humans that play the defining role in our geological historical moment.

The assumption, Latour notes, is that human agency is the prime source of action that shapes the physical world. Humans are responsible for climate change, for pollution, for altering the literal, natural fabric of our world. Yet we know that not all humans have the same impact on our environment. As Latour quips, there is not “One Human” who is responsible for the changes we see in our climate or environment. We are simultaneously assessing human power as a plural, collective entity, as well as using this concept to suggest that the blame for global change does not fall evenly across all humans. As anthropologists and cultural theorists, we know how fragile human agency can be when we divide it amongst many contending social and cultural groups.

Our blog editor at the Latour Distinguished Lecture

Our blog editor at the Latour Distinguished Lecture

Is there another way to think about human action that does not problematically configure humans as both collective and individual, acting but not universally accountable for all human actions? Latour posits that rather than focusing solely on agency, with a strong emphasis on human intention and purpose when committing action, we could think instead about animation, or what forces–human and non-human– are in motion in a given social space. To do so, we can no longer assume that the human agent is a colloquial be-all-end-all.

How does this assertion speak to medical anthropology, social medicine, and medical humanities? At first, we might raise our brows at the discussions of geography, environment, and most of all the suspicion surrounding the primacy of human agency. Decentralizing the human agent, we might say, is perhaps the least humanistic approach to the study of human experience. Indeed, medicine is the care of humans by humans!

However, our human ability to question our own power and position in the universe, amidst other natural and non-human forces, is a mark of our species. Whether through philosophy, religion, or social science, humans have a proclivity for ruminating about our place in the material, corporal world. We crave knowledge about what sets us apart from non-human things, and how we are sometimes reliant on them. For scholars of medicine, such inquiries about our relationships with the physical universe is key. We consider the place of non-human agents in disease and care. We ask: why do physicians rely on certain tools? Why do patients see stethoscopes, thermometers, and scalpels as making a clinician legitimate in his or her practice? How are medical traditions made unique by their tools and pharmaceutical formulas? Could the layout of a hospital or clinic itself alter the way care is given?

In an age where technology permeates developed and developing societies, Latour’s suggestion to destabilize human agency is productive when considering medicine as a cultural object. We must think not only of ourselves, but the physical environments we live in and the material objects and devices we cannot seem to live without.

Many scholars understandably resist Latour’s idea that non-humans could have some primitive agency. Yet even if we do not assign agency to non-human tools, things, and environments, thinking seriously about their role in sociocultural systems is informative. Medicine is a lively site of exchange between patients and physicians, as well as practitioners and devices, patients and new medical innovations, and the built environments which house them. As Latour invites us to do, we should pause to consider humans within the midst of a rich material world around us that– like humanity itself– is constantly in motion.

Julia Balacko is a second-year PhD student in medical anthropology at Case Western Reserve University. She holds an MA in Humanities from the University of Chicago. Her research focuses on the culture of human anatomy and dissection in Western medical traditions, as well as public access to anatomical and pathological specimens.


Note on the presenter:

Bruno Latour is professor at the Sciences Po Paris in Paris, France. A central theorist in STS (science and technology studies), he is the author of We Have Never Been Modern (1991), Science in Action (1987) and Laboratory Life (1979).

You can read the full text of Latour’s lecture here: http://www.bruno-latour.fr/sites/default/files/139-AAA-Washington.pdf

A Few Words from the AAA 2014 Meeting

This week, many of our readers (and staff members here in the office of Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry) are attending the American Anthropological Association’s annual meeting in Washington, DC. For those of you presenting, we wish you the best of luck in delivering thoughtful and productive presentations. To all attendees, we hope you have pleasant travels to the nation’s capital, and return from the conference with new knowledge and fresh ideas.

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons

Much like conferences in our field, CMP social media is a common space for intellectual inquiry about contemporary issues in anthropology. In the spirit of building this communal space electronically, we now invite our followers to submit approximately 500-word blog entries– ranging from brief commentaries on a research project, recent presentation, or reflections on topics in medical anthropology, medical humanities, and social medicine– to be considered for our blog.

We ask that submissions to the blog be widely accessible to readers across anthropology and the humanities: from advanced undergraduate students, graduate students, professors, as well as applied practitioners and interdisciplinary researchers. Accepted pieces will be posted here and shared via our Twitter account. This is an opportunity to showcase your work to new audiences and to gain valuable insight into producing widely accessible, digital scholarship. Please direct your submissions to Julia Balacko at jcb193@case.edu.

Thank you for following CMP social media. We look forward to receiving your guest blog submissions and hearing more from you about exciting new research from the AAA Annual Meeting.

Best Wishes,

The CMP Editorial Staff

AAA 2014: Sessions on Psychiatry, Mental Illness, and Drugs

For our readers attending the American Anthropological Association annual meeting this year, we’re featuring a list of sessions sure to pique your interest in various aspects of mental illness, health, drugs, and psychiatric care. The following selection of sessions was drawn from this year’s AAA online presentation schedule for the 2014 annual meeting, to be held this year in Washington, DC from December 3-7th (for more information, click here: http://www.aaanet.org/meetings). Sessions in the list are organized by chronological date and time.

If you would like your session to be added to this list, please email a link to the session description on the AAA website to: jcb193@case.edu.

Global Mental Healthcare: Challenges, Controversies and Innovations

Wednesday, December 3rd 2pm-3:45pm

http://aaa.confex.com/aaa/2014/webprogram/Session12926.html

“Global” Knowledge, “Local” Care, and Subjectivity: Producing an Anthropology of Psychosis

Wednesday, December 3rd 2pm-3:45pm

http://aaa.confex.com/aaa/2014/webprogram/Session11392.html

Psyche and the Brain in the 21st Century

Wednesday, December 3rd 4pm-5:45pm

http://aaa.confex.com/aaa/2014/webprogram/Session11636.html

Transcendance and the Everyday in Responses to Trauma

Thursday, December 4th 2:30-4:15pm

http://aaa.confex.com/aaa/2014/webprogram/Session11838.html

What Drugs Produce

Saturday, December 6th 9am-10:45am

http://aaa.confex.com/aaa/2014/webprogram/Session11124.html

Psychological Disorder and Subjectivity in Socio-Political Context

Saturday, December 6th 11am-12:45pm

http://aaa.confex.com/aaa/2014/webprogram/Session12768.html

Ordering, Morality and Triage: Producing Medical Anthropology Beyond the Suffering Subject Part 2: Mental Health and Illness

Saturday, December 6th 2:30pm-4:15pm

http://aaa.confex.com/aaa/2014/webprogram/Session11809.html

Professional Perspectives in the Anthropology of Drugs

Saturday, December 6th 6:30pm-8:15pm

http://aaa.confex.com/aaa/2014/webprogram/Session11263.html

News: AAA Forms Task Force on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

The American Anthropological Association (AAA) has recently formed a task force that will examine implications of the conflict between Israel and Palestine for the anthropological community: including forming potential stances that the organization could take on issues that might impede upon scholarly inquiry surrounding the conflict.

Members of the task force, appointed by current AAA president Monica Heller, could profess no public opinion about the political nature of the conflict. They were each required to have a subject matter background pertinent to analyzing the conflict at hand.[i]

Logo of the AAA from Wikimedia Commons

Logo of the AAA from Wikimedia Commons

The AAA website notes that the task force members will investigate “the uses of anthropological research to support or challenge claims of territory and historicity; restrictions placed by government policy or practice on anthropologists’ academic freedom; or commissioning anthropological research whose methods and/or aims may be inconsistent with the AAA statement of professional responsibilities.”[ii] Beyond studying what effects the conflict has on anthropological research and scholarship, the task force will also make recommendations on whether or not the AAA should take a stance on issues unveiled by the report.

In describing the task force goals, the AAA website also notes that it is possible that no stance will be taken on problems raised in the findings—but that any position the organization takes must be substantiated by “neutral overviews” of the argument in favor of a particular stance.

An article about the task force posted earlier this year on the Anthropology News website—operated by the AAA—noted that anthropologists, “have an opportunity here to develop modes of mutually respectful exchange on controversial anthropological topics that will serve us well now and in the future.”[iii]

Although the task force will meet in person during the Annual Meeting in December to discuss these concerns, their findings will not be available in a complete written report until October 2015.


[i] https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2014/09/09/anthropology-group-creates-task-force-israeli-palestinian-conflict

[ii] http://www.aaanet.org/cmtes/commissions/Task-Force-on-AAA-Engagement-on-Israel-Palestine.cfm

[iii] http://www.anthropology-news.org/index.php/2014/04/30/towards-an-informed-aaa-position-on-israel-palestine/