Books for Review: Vol 41, Issue 2

In our June 2017 issue, we received these two books for review at Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry. These previews provide a snapshot of recent publications in medical anthropology, global health, and the history of medicine that we’re excited to discuss in our journal and with our followers on social media.


Living Faithfully in an Unjust World: Compassionate Care in Russia (2016)

Melissa L. Caldwell

In this book, Caldwell asks, “What does it mean to be a compassionate, caring person in Russia, which has become a country of stark income inequalities and political restrictions? How might ethics and practices of kindness constitute a mode of civic participation in which “doing good”—helping, caring for, and loving one another in a world marked by many problems and few easy solutions—is a necessary part of being an active citizen?”

Living Faithfully in an Unjust World explores how, following the retreat of the Russian state from social welfare services, Russians’ efforts to “do the right thing” for their communities have forged new modes of social justice and civic engagement. Through vivid ethnography based on twenty years of research within a thriving Moscow-based network of religious and secular charitable service providers, Caldwell examines how community members care for a broad range of Russia’s population, in Moscow and beyond, through programs that range from basic health services to human rights advocacy.

As the experiences of assistance workers, government officials, recipients, and supporters reveal, their work and beliefs are shaped by a practical philosophy of goodness and kindness. Despite the hardships these individuals witness on a regular basis, there is a pervasive sense of optimism that human kindness will prevail over poverty, injury, and injustice. Ultimately, what connects members of this diverse group is a shared belief that caring for others is not simply a practical matter or an idealistic vision but a project of faith and hope. Together care-seekers and care-givers destabilize and remake the meaning of “faith” and “faith-based” by putting into practice a vision of humanitarianism that transcends the boundaries between state and private, religious and secular.

For more information, visit the University of California Press website, available here.


PTSD and the Politics of Trauma in Israel: A Nation on the Couch (2017)

Keren Friedman-Peleg

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, has long been defined as a mental trauma that solely affects the individual. However, against the backdrop of contemporary Israel, what role do families, health experts, donors, and the national community at large play in interpreting and responding to this individualized trauma?

In PTSD and the Politics of Trauma in Israel, Friedman-Peleg sheds light on a new way of speaking about mental vulnerability and national belonging in contemporary Israel. Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted at The Israel Center for Victims of Terror and War and The Israel Trauma Coalition between 2004 and 2009, Friedman-Peleg’s rich ethnographic study challenges the traditional and limited definitions of trauma. In doing so, she exposes how these clinical definitions have been transformed into new categories of identity, thereby raising new dynamics of power, as well as new forms of dialogue.

Chapters include:

  1. Birth of Agencies, Birth of an Interpretative Framework
  2. Trauma and Capital: Bearers of Knowledge, Keepers of Cashboxes
  3. Trauma and the Camera: Labeling Stress, Marketing the Fear
  4. They Shoot, Cry and Are Treated: The “Clinical Nucleus” of Trauma among IDF Soldiers
  5. Woman, Man and Disorder: Trauma in the Intimate Sphere of the Family
  6. Wandering PTSD: Ethnic Diversity and At-Risk Groups across the Country
  7. Taking Hold: Resilience Program in the Southern Town of Sderot
  8. Treading Cautiously around Sensitive Clinical and Political Domains

For more information, visit the University of Toronto Press website, available here.

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Issue Highlight: Vol 39 Issue 4, Posthumous Reproduction

Our final issue of the year– Volume 39 Issue 4 December 2015– has just arrived. In our last blog post series for 2015, we begin with a three-part feature of the latest publications at the journal in this new issue. In addition to the article previews in this series, our readers can access the full issue here. In this post, we explore Yael Hashiloni-Dolev’s preliminary research on posthumous reproduction in Israel (full article accessible here.)


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Biomedicine, through its innovative application of technology, can reconfigure biological experiences in ways that alter or reinforce cultural beliefs surrounding life, death, reproduction, kinship, parenthood, and social roles. Most recently, this has become a central issue in the field of assisted reproductive technologies: where biomedical interventions potentiate new relationships between parents, families, and children. But while assisted reproductive medicine is often discussed in terms of generating life, these new generative technologies may also intersect with death in novel ways that challenge existing understandings of kinship and familial relationships.

Hashiloni-Dolev article studies Israeli lay perceptions of a new concept in assisted reproductive medicine called posthumous reproduction (PHR.) In sum, PHR entails the use of genetic material from deceased parents to conceive children after their deaths. This usually means a woman will opt to become artificially inseminated with a husband or partner’s sperm retrieved while the man was in a coma or vegetative state: however, it may also include the fertilization of a woman’s eggs, frozen while she was alive, and gestated in a surrogate mother. Even frozen embryos of two deceased parents (a mother and father) might be “adopted” and implanted into a female relative or another recipient, who subsequently gives birth to a child whose biological parents are no longer alive. This process also facilitates the possibility of posthumous grandparenthood, and indeed, some parents whose adult children have died may seek out PHR technologies (include allied technologies such as surrogacy) to produce grandchildren.

Israel is one of the few countries that permits some forms of PHR, and it is a progressive nation in terms of reproductive technologies: its state health system covers the costs of ARTs (assisted reproductive technologies) for couples who have difficulty conceiving. Although Israel does not permit all forms of PHR, it does allow for the collection of a man’s sperm upon a wife’s request to carry his child upon his death (what the author calls the “prototype scenario.”) In this regard, Israel served as a prime location for surveying participants and testing initial ideas about the public perception of PHR: a new frontier of ARTs yet to be studied in the anthropological literature.

Through 26 semi-structured interviews with newlywed or childless couples, Hashiloni-Dolev discovered that there were some inconsistencies between the Israeli PHR policies and the participants’ understanding of PHR technologies. For instance, the government stipulated that PHR could occur via the retrieval of sperm from a dying or recently deceased father upon the wife or female partner’s instruction. The policy states that the retrieval could occur given evidence of a man’s “presumed wish” that he would want his spouse or partner to carry his child after death. However, “wish” and “consent” were interpreted differently by men interviewed for the study. The men typically stated that while they would defer to their partner’s wishes to have a child after their death, they themselves were uncomfortable with the possibility of their partners having the child and being unable to “move on” should they pass away. In this instance, while the man’s presumed “wish” might not change a woman’s decision to retrieve his sperm posthumously, it does not mean the man would “consent” to the process if he were not already dead.

Conversely, consent becomes more complicated given the circumstances that typically surround the use of PHR. The man is presumably young, such that his female partner would be able to carry his child, and would have died suddenly: thus making it nearly impossible to obtain his consent unless he had already affirmatively offered it while still alive and healthy.

There were also issues related to the family life of a child born through PHR techniques. Both male and female participants worried about the emotional stability and security of children born out of such conditions, and expressed their concern with new policies being proposed that would allow for expanded posthumous grandparenthood rights. The participants believed that the decision to have children following the death of a spouse was between the couple, and was not between other family members. Likewise, many participants worried about the birth of a child as a living shrine to the deceased, rather than as a new and autonomous member of the family.

In these responses, it is clear that while both biomedical technologies and governmental policies may enable PHR to occur, the process is not always viewed in such liberal terms by individuals who could be most likely to use it. Posthumous reproduction thus supplies medical anthropologists and scholars of social medicine with a nuanced case of the cultural position of new technologies, and the concerns that individuals across cultures have with these new reproductive tools: particularly as they relate to consent, kinship, and the roles of parents.

 

Publication Highlight: “Online First” Articles (Oct 2014), Part Two

Welcome to the second installment of this series. The following collection of articles are from our “Online First” file at our publisher’s website: http://link.springer.com/journal/11013. The full text of these articles will be released in upcoming issues of Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry, but here we’d like to lend our readers a glimpse into the innovative research in medical anthropology and social medicine that the journal publishes.

Clicking the title of each paper will send you to the “Online First” page for each article, including a full list of authors and abstracts.

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Confinement and Psychiatric Care: A Comparison Between High-Security Units for Prisoners and for Difficult Patients in France

Livia Velpry & Benoît Eyraud

Learning Constraint. Exploring Nurses’ Narratives of Psychiatric Work in the Early Years of French Community Psychiatry

Nicolas Henckes

The Ethics of Ambivalence and the Practice of Constraint in US Psychiatry

Paul Brodwin

Between Jewish Settlers and Palestinian Citizens of Israel: Negotiating Ethno-national Power Relations Through the Discourse of PTSD

Keren Friedman-Peleg

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/