753 Mind, Culture and Psychiatry

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Term 1
Module code
FHEQ Level

Module overview

This module is concerned with the ways the mind and mental illness are understood in different cultural contexts. We explore the cultural and historical shaping of Western psychiatry and its interaction with other diagnostic and healing traditions. Are psychiatric diagnostic categories like depression or PTSD universal or culturally and historically specific, bound to particular notions of mind, body or spirit? Is Western psychiatric knowledge imposed on other societies through Global Mental Health, or does the expansion of evidence-based treatments address a critical ‘treatment gap’? Is the globally rising diagnosis of mental disorders a consequence of new stressors, undiagnosed conditions or the medicalisation of ordinary sadness and coping responses? How might we understand the relationship between brain biology, adverse life experiences, and culturally experienced illness? How does social inequality, discrimination and abuse affect mental health? Is trauma a universally meaningful idea?

The module uses ethnographic research, cultural psychiatry and anthropological theory to explore such questions. It will probe the universality of psychiatric knowledge, and examine how illness classifications are the result of political and epistemological struggles, both on local and global scales. Ethnography allows exploration of the relationship between cultural idioms of distress or altered states of mind such as spirit possession and trance, and modern psychiatric and neuro-scientific knowledge. We consider how psychiatric knowledge from Freud to neuroscience has shaped how we experience ourselves, how new technologies such as brain scans change the ways in which we envision the relationship between mind and body, nature and culture, self and society.

Each week will take a different starting point rooted in a diagnostic field, a therapeutic approach, mental healthcare system or theme as an entry into these broad contemporary debates.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

Successful students will have a basic understanding of the different concepts that are used to understand the link between mind, culture and psychiatry. They will learned to use ethnographic materials, theoretical and personal reflection to weigh different perspectives in mental health. They will have acquired capacity for critical engagement with issues of global mental health and illness classification, but also to challenge simple dichotomies of Western vs non-Western and biomedical vs cultural. They will appreciate the challenges and opportunities in addressing human distress and suffering their diverse forms and manifestations. They will be able to present coherent arguments supported by ethnographic, historical and other evidence.

Scope and syllabus

Compulsory module for all students on:

  • MA Medical Anthropology and Mental Health

Guided option for students on:

  • MA Social Anthropology
  • MA Social Anthropology + Intensive Language
  • MRes Social Anthropology
  • MRes Social Anthropology + Intensive Language

This module is also a School-wide Open Option. No prerequisites.

  • Note: May be taken in combination with either 754 Medical Anthropology: Global Perspectives or 755 Anthropological Approaches to the Body and Embodiment , but not both. Combination of all three open only to students on the MA Medical Anthropology and Mental Health and the MRes Social Anthropology.

Suggested reading

Representative readings:

  • Behrouzan, Orkideh 2016. Prozak diaries: psychiatry and generational memory in Iran . Stanford : Stanford University Press
  • Good, M.-J. D., Hyde, S. T., Pinto, S., & Good, B. J. (Eds.). (2008). Postcolonial Disorders . Berkeley: University of California Press
  • Jenkins, Janice 2015. Extraordinary Conditions: Culture and Experience in Mental Illness . University of California Press.
  • Jirmayer, Laurence J., Robert Lemelson, Constance A. Cummings, F. (eds.) 2015. Re-Visioning Psychiatry: Cultural Phenomenology, Critical Neuroscience, and Global Mental Health . Cambridge University Press
  • Kitanaka, Junko 2012. Depression in Japan. Psychiatric Cures for a Society in Distress . Princeton University Press
  • Luhrmann, T.M. 2000. Of Two Minds: an anthropologist looks at America psychiatry . New York: Vintage Books
  • Martin, Emily 2009. Bipolar Expeditions: Mania and Depression in American Culture . Princeton University Press
  • Rose, N. (2019). Our Psychiatric Future. The Politics of Mental Health . Cambridge: Polity Press
  • Watters, Ethan 2010 Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the Western Mind . Free Press
  • Young, Allan (1995) The Harmony of Illusions: Inventing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder . Princeton: Princeton University Press


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules