This month’s reading list, part I
The 2015 Refugee Crisis in Europe: Forum
Seth M. Holmes, Heide Castaneda
The European refugee crisis has gained worldwide attention with daily media coverage both in and outside Germany. Representations of refugees in media and political discourse in relation to Germany participate in a Gramscian “war of position” over symbols, policies, and, ultimately, social and material resources, with potentially fatal consequences. These representations shift blame from historical, political-economic structures to the displaced people themselves. They demarcate the “deserving” refugee from the “undeserving” migrant and play into fear of cultural, religious, and ethnic difference in the midst of increasing anxiety and precarity for many in Europe. Comparative perspectives suggest that anthropology can play an important role in analyzing these phenomena, highlighting sites of contestation, imagining alternatives, and working toward them.
Annastiina Kallius, Daniel Monterescu, Prem Kumar Rajaram
In the summer of 2015, more than 350,000 migrants moved through Hungarian territory. Almost immediately there emerged in response a dialectic between, on the one hand, depoliticizing narratives of crisis that sought to immobilize the migrants and, on the other, concrete political mobilization that sought to facilitate their mobility. While state institutions and humanitarian volunteer groups framed mobility in terms that emphasized a vertical form of politics, a horizontal counterpolitics arose by the summer’s end, one that challenged hegemonic territorial politics. The state’s efforts to immobilize resulted only in more radical forms of mobility. Outlining an ethnography of mobility, immobilization, and cross-border activism, we follow the dramatic yet momentary presence, and subsequent absence, of migrants in an evanescent rebel city marked by novel political solidarities.
The sentiment of being “surrounded by barbarians” was once specific to settler-colonial societies. But as the European refugee crisis made headlines in 2015, it became evident that this sentiment is gaining widespread currency in the Western world. Three developments lie behind its extension: first, the resurgence in the militarized Western appropriation of world resources and its colonial imaginary; second, the crisis in the order of the national borders that has regulated the exploitation of land, resources, and labor in the neocolonial era; and third, the ecological crisis, which equally manifests itself as a crisis in the order of the borders of domestication that defined the modern exploitation of nature. Analyzing the intersection of these social processes offers us important insights into some of the dominant dynamics of Western culture today.
At a drug rehabilitation clinic in Indian-occupied Kashmir, patients were subjected to a range of biomedical and penitentiary techniques. These techniques included group therapy sessions in which substance users performed narratives of their recovery—a practice that made visible their gratitude to the police, which oversaw the clinic and which, as an arm of the Indian military, many view as an illegal occupying force. While patients publicly pledged to remain sober and technically complied with the clinic’s demands, they privately demonstrated ongoing commitments to nasha (intoxication), which places substance use, romantic love, and the search for divine unity in Sufism on the same phenomenological register. Through nasha, patients defied biomedical injunctions to forget their pasts and recuperated intoxication as a worthwhile experience.
As Indian women’s rights organizations address violence against women, they rely heavily on mediation practices such as family counseling. At one counseling center in Jaipur, Rajasthan, family counselors operated in an environment saturated with transnational discourse about human rights and gendered violence. Yet counselors addressed household harm through arguments about kin-based care and interdependence, referred to as seva. Through their discussions of seva, counselors challenge scholarly assumptions about an insurmountable opposition between the demands of kinship and women’s rights as autonomous subjects. Instead of presenting independence as a solution to disordered homes, they reordered household dependencies, subtly reworking ideologies of patriarchal kinship. Via ethnographic attention to the complex connections between kinship, care, and interdependence in counseling, I demonstrate the central role of kinship in localizing transnational arguments about rights.
Erica Bornstein, Aradhana Sharma
Civil society groups today are honored and relied on by governments, as well as tightly regulated and scrutinized for challenging state policies and agencies. In contemporary India, political dynamics of collaboration and confrontation between state and nonstate actors increasingly unfold in legal-social fields, taking “technomoral” forms. Mixing technocratic languages of law and policy with moral pronouncements, these actors assert themselves as virtuous agents, marking their political legitimacy as keepers of the public interest. Using ethnographic research with Indian NGOs, social movements, and a political party, we show that as civil society groups interact with state bodies, they redefine institutional boundaries and claim moral authority over public stewardship. Technomoral strategies are neither depoliticized nor antipolitical, but constitute a righteous and rightful form of politics.
Caregivers’ quotidian actions challenge prevailing views of care that rely on the emotional or attentive orientation of the caregiver. The routinized care tasks provided by two middle-aged women for their bedridden mother in northern Thailand reveal the realities of long-term caregiving. For these sisters, care transforms “merit” and “karma” without reliance on internal conviction. This context in turn reflects how people enact values and maintain social worlds through habituated physical practices of providing for others. Ordinary care in practice—termed “rituals of care”—dislodges fixation on particular personal sentiments and affirms the study of care as a powerful tool for assessing enduring modes of moral experience as well as subtle forms of social change.
At the Georgian Weightlifting Federation in Tbilisi, Georgia, a mainstay of coaching is the training cue, a shouted word or phrase that coaches use to prompt weightlifters to perform in a certain psychological, physical, or technical way. In this practice, coaches cultivate and naturalize dimensions of physiology and psychology, aligning masculinity with animality, lack of restraint, and emotional surfeit, and femininity with gracefulness, control, and good technique. Although Olympic weightlifting remains stereotypically hypermasculine, coaches compliment female weightlifters’ technique as superior to men’s and train their athletes to integrate masculine “nature” and feminine “culture” in the expression of physical strength. In doing so, coaches do not instill fully formed subjectivities but manage embodied forms, using exclamatory cues to disaggregate the athlete into action, affect, and anatomy.
Magdalena E. Stawskowski
The Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site in Kazakhstan was conceived as an experimental landscape where science, technology, Soviet Cold War militarism, and human biology intersected. As of 2015, thousands of people continue to live in rural communities in the immediate vicinity of this polluted landscape. Lacking good economic options, many of them claim to be “mutants” adapted to radiation, while outsiders see them as genetically tainted. In such a setting, how do post-Soviet social, political, and economic transformations operate with radioactivity to co-constitute a “mutant” subjectivity? Today, villagers think of themselves as biologically transformed but not disabled, showing that there is no uniform way of understanding the effects of radioactive pollution, including among scientists.
In this narrative essay I describe the process and outcomes of a group of fourth graders’ engagement in a critical inquiry into the constructed meaning of disability in society. Through self-directed and guided learning, these students examined the historical roots of disability oppression and deconstructed ableist assumptions, and thus found their own understanding about community membership to be transformed. Positioning the need to infuse disability history in schools as an imperative, this paper invites disability studies scholars and social justice educators alike to confront the silences around the topic of disability in schools and to create spaces for children to engage in meaningful dialogues about society’s responses to human differences.
Hanna Bertilsdotter Rosqvist, Charlotte Brownlow, Lindsay O´Dell
In this paper we discuss the notion of ‘autistic friendship’. Drawing on articles published in the Swedish advocacy magazine Empowerment, written for and by autistic people, a thematic analysis explores two interrelated themes: the meaning and performance of friendship in non-autistic (NT) and autistic (AS) worlds and the meaning of space in social interaction and community. Articles published in the magazine frequently discuss autistic only spaces as safe places in which to make friends with other autistic people and also in which to perhaps learn how to manage social interactions with the dominant non-autistic (NT) culture.
This paper addresses growing anxieties over the past two decades within media studies and visual art concerning the negative effects of technological sociality. Noting the recurrent use of the language of cognitive impairments—particularly that of autism—in appraisals of mediated relational deficits, this paper investigates the parallel production of ability and disability within privileged models of relationality and its aesthetics. Rather than attempting to police or restore valorized forms and practices of interpersonal exchange, I call for a more inclusive approach to relationality predicated upon a disability studies approach. Looking specifically to the Second Life performance works of Eva and Franco Mattes, I argue that technologically-produced social impairments can be productively approached as sites of alternative and adaptive relationalities.
Josephine A. Seguna
Space, a vital element of contemporary social boundaries, has prompted debate into the significance, embodiment, construction of spatiality and the marginality and exclusion of minorities. Such ‘disabled’ relations’ at the intersection of self and other, self and self, and self and objects function through spatial organization and negotiations of power in everyday experiences. Martin Heidegger’s interpretation of space (Being and Time, 1927) allows for new considerations of existence in relation to categorization, labelling and exile of those outside mass society. Human existence is not one of subjectivity but rather the nature of the world through ‘Space’ as a condition of individual experience and inclusive of all aspects of Dasein’s Being-in-the-world-with-others. This paper, using Heidegger’s analysis, highlights social interaction and construction of disability as a product of interpretive processes, creating and maintaining division between ‘normal and other’ and thus ignoring the possibility of conceiving disability as a legitimate, valued embodied difference.
Carrie Lou Garberoglio, Duncan Dickson, Stephanie Cawthon, Mark Bond
Communication technologies are often proposed to level the playing field for individuals with disabilities, but the benefits may be magnified for deaf individuals in particular due to the communication barriers experienced by these individuals. In this paper, we set out to test the assumption that increased engagement with communication technology, specifically computer-mediated communication, during adolescence would contribute to actual attainment gains in adult life for deaf individuals in three domains: life, education, and employment. A secondary analysis using the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2 (NLTS2) was conducted, allowing for a longitudinal examination of deaf individuals’ experiences in the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Findings revealed that deaf individuals who engaged with computer-mediated communication at higher frequencies during adolescence did not reveal discernible gains in adult life attainments in any domain. We propose that the benefits of communication technology only go so far, and that achieving greater equitable outcomes for deaf individuals requires larger systemic change.
Lucy Diep, Gregor Wolbring
Communication technologies are constantly transforming the way we communicate and interact with each other, and with our environment, with its impact affecting everyone including disabled people and the groups linked to them. The brain-machine interface (BMI) is one example of an emerging communication technology envisioned to transform the way we communicate and interact with each other and our environment in the near future. One group targeted to use BMI technology and impacted by others using BMI are disabled people. For disabled people and their families, the impact and implications of adopting BMI technologies is important to understand so they can make informed decisions and advocate for policies governing the technology’s application to decrease negative and increase positive outcomes. In this study, we interviewed nine mothers of disabled children, with no prior knowledge of BMI technology, to explore their perceptions and attitude toward the technology. Five main themes emerged from our findings: the potential benefit to aid mothers to interpret their children’s needs; the potential benefit to expand a child’s social network; the preference for non-invasive BMI approach; impact of BMI use by non-disabled people and cost and qualification barriers.
This paper uses archival documents, literature, and art to sketch the history of the blind in Spain. Traditionally, certain occupations, such as singing and playing musical instruments, saying prayers and selling chapbooks were reserved for the blind. Spanish artists and writers have portrayed the blind engaged in these occupations. Starting in the Middle Ages, the blind established powerful brotherhoods through which they controlled these professions. The changing roles that the blind played in the creation, production, performance and sale of popular literature known as literatura de cordel show their successful adaptation to an emerging print culture. The situation of the blind today and the success of the National Organization of the Spanish Blind (ONCE) are also discussed.
Gareth M. Thomas
This article highlights the importance of dissecting the complex relationship between stigma, health, and place. Drawing on qualitative research with young people in a post-industrial town in the UK, I explore how these young people reflect on their broad sense of health in a stigmatized community. I capture the multiple senses of place experienced by young people and how they come to imagine, negotiate, resist, and accommodate this stigmatization. I conclude by unpacking what implications place-based stigma has for policy as well as for studying young people’s health and wellbeing.
Lynda Berends, Sandra C. Jones, Kelly Andrews
We explored young people and parents’ views on adolescent drinking and safety in the locations where drinking may occur. Focus groups with adolescents and parents showed that many believed adolescent drinking and drunkenness is normative. Younger adolescents had more negative views of adolescent drinkers than their older peers. Adolescent drinking occurred in private settings and parents made decisions about allowing their adolescent children to attend social events based on the level of safety attributed to the location. If adolescent drinking was likely then home was the preferred location as it provided scope for risk minimisation. Positive portrayals of non-drinking adolescents and information to assist parents’ decision-making are needed.
Laura McGrath, Paula Reavey
Experiences of the space–time dimensions of contemporary mental health services are shaped according to what we describe here as a ‘helicopter service’, where professionals drop down into service users’ lives for short, often pre-determined bursts of time. This can create a system where users’ experiences are observed and assessed from a more distanced and circumscribed perspective. This paper considers the implications of these systemic changes, using interviews with current UK service users. To help in the exploration of the complexities faced by service users’, we use Deleuze and Guatarri’s (1987) distinction between molar and molecular forms of organisation. A process oriented thematic analysis discusses: a) Affording narratives of distress: Molarity, monitoring and space in service interactions and b) Narratives in therapy: Compartmentalising the distressed self. Multiple aspects of the relationship between space and distress are explored. An understanding of experiences of distress beyond the boundaries of the molar, which considers its intensive, molecular and transformative nature, may help to open up engagement with the affective and emotional dimensions of mental health.
Eileen Moyer, Vinh-Kim Nguyen
This issue of MAT brings together several ‘regular’ submissions with the nine offerings that make up our first Special Section, ‘Beyond “Trauma”’. Collectively, the editorials, essays, articles, and translations make use of the strategy of (re)framing, common to both photography and ethnography. This strategy is at once aesthetic, ethical, and political, permitting the artist/ethnographer to guide the viewer/reader toward particular understandings of the world.
This special section includes some of the works presented in an interdisciplinary workshop entitled ‘Beyond “Trauma”: Emergent Agendas in Understanding Mental Health in the Middle East’, held in September 2014 in London. In the face of a pressing need to rethink the psycho-politics of well-being and mental health in the Middle East, the event raised questions about what is at stake – culturally, historically, and politically – when mental health becomes an area of inquiry and intervention. Specifically, we aspired to bring together viewpoints that go beyond the limits of dominant global health paradigms that are characterized by an individual-centred emphasis and approaches that focus on trauma and PTSD. We hope to engage in an ethical and pedagogical examination of what we assume we know, and to ask what happens to psychiatry and mental health care paradigms as they travel. At stake are a number of conceptual frames, both in the social sciences and in psychological disciplines, that no longer seem helpful, yet remain central in mental health care practice and policy making. A critical conversation about the cultural meanings and situated experiences of psychological conditions, as well as the appropriation of diagnostic categories and theories of trauma, seems to be long overdue.
Michael M.J. Fischer
What have we learned in the aftermaths of wars across the Middle East as a prolegomena for a new generation of research frameworks on mental health burdens in the region? Four questions are addressed: what are the moral implications of different forms of intervention? Are there transformations in the discursive structures over the past three decades in response to experiences of war? What are the implications for mental health and social resilience in neighboring countries to those in war? What mix of methods to research these are most helpful? The 2014 ‘Beyond Trauma’ workshop held at Kings College, London, organized by Orkideh Behrouzan, provides a beginning benchmark for new comparative work across the region from the Levant to Afghanistan and Acheh. I discuss the workshop’s case studies, together with other research, to highlight the range of methods utilized and objects examined, and to draw attention to the resonances this research has with the work of many other scholars. A new network and new conversation should grow and connect with other networks of researchers, bringing together patient life histories, genres of expression, and new discursive formations to address transformations in the lives of everyone touched by these wars.
The following is the text of the keynote address delivered by Jennifer Leaning at the international workshop ‘Beyond “Trauma”: Emergent Agendas in Understanding Mental Health in the Middle East’, held in London on 27 September 2014 (described further in the introduction to this Special Section). An expert in public health rights-based responses to humanitarian crises, Jennifer Leaning is the François-Xavier Bagnoud Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights and Director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University, as well as Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Her policy-oriented research has focused on public health, medical ethics, and early warning in response to war and disaster, human rights, and international humanitarian law in crisis settings, and problems of human security in the context of forced migration and conflict. She has documented human rights abuses, provided medical care, and evaluated public health services in a range of crisis situations and humanitarian emergencies in Afghanistan, Albania, Kosovo, Angola, Darfur, the Middle East, the former Soviet Union, Somalia, and the African Great Lakes region. She is a co-founder of Physicians for Human Rights, and serves on the boards of The Humane Society of the United States and the Massachusetts Bay Chapter of the American Red Cross. During 1999 to 2005, Leaning directed the Program on Humanitarian Crises and Human Rights at the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health. She founded the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and served as its co-director from 2005–2009.
Dr. Leaning’s perspective enriched our interdisciplinary dialogue by foregrounding pressing issues of practice and policy and bringing them into conversation with anthropological perspectives on and concerns about the future of psychological well-being in Middle East societies.
Most debates on postwar mental health focus on clinical evaluations of veterans’ and civilians’ individual experiences of wartime ‘trauma’. But the psychological afterlife and the social discord that wars create cannot be reduced to a clinical artifact of individual trauma or be divorced from the historical and cultural meanings that it carries. Generations of war children will continue to remember, process, and work through cultural changes that quietly inscribe past war experiences in their daily lives. This article examines one such cultural shift, namely the medicalization of the memories of the Iran-Iraq War. It illustrates how individuals’ PTSD-like symptoms or alleged depreshen turn the seemingly desocializing act of medicalization on its head, and how diagnosis can become a cultural resource to resocialize the war in the sanitized language of biomedicine. It further suggests that moving beyond an individual and clinical rendition of trauma requires the integration of an anthropological understanding of illness and its cultural situatedness into medical pedagogies.
This article explores trauma as a form of ‘social wound’, entrenched in the intersections of local histories and social experiences of violence and displacement. Building on ethnographic accounts of displacement of Iraqis in Lebanon in the wake of the US occupation of Iraq (2003–2011), I ask: what happens when wounds travel across different social worlds and local histories of violence? The account presented tells the story of Hussein, an Iraqi refugee who escaped Iraq during the height of sectarian violence (2006–2007) and claimed asylum status as a torture victim in Lebanon. For displaced people like Hussein, the experiences of violence and uprooting were amplified by the uncertainties of everyday life in Beirut. His case shows that the selective sorting of refugees around questions of vulnerability and victimhood weaves further tensions into the social fabric of displaced peoples and their host communities. In contexts of layered histories of war, violence, displacement, and humanitarian interventions, which characterize much of the Middle East, wounds constitute the interstitial tissue of the social; they are what brings people together and what sets them apart. An ethnography of such ‘travelling wounds’ might account for the complex ways that discourses of trauma and histories of violence unravel in everyday encounters.
This article considers the relationship between depressed affect, a long-term refugee situation, and poetry among Afghan refugees in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Based on ethnographic fieldwork on the changing subjectivities of Afghan refugee poets, it explores the relationship between a perception of collective suffering, individual mental distress, and creativity in this community. Rather than establishing diagnostic criteria for depression among Afghans, the article is mostly concerned with the social and cultural ripples of psychological distress resulting from decades of war, displacement, and marginalization in the host country. It seeks to complicate biomedical understandings of depression by drawing on anthropological studies of dysphoria in Iran and on the collective experience of social suffering and structural violence. Through a discussion of four poets and their work, it explores the productive aspects of depression and the therapeutic, political, and transcendental potential of writing poetry.
The authors of this Special Section invite us to consider what it means to go beyond the common trope of ‘trauma’ in conceptualizing events in the Middle East. Considering the question in relation to these contributions, I ask: is trauma a concept with sharp edges or a word at hand saturated with context that grows out of the experience of life and its many dissolutions? Together, this collection challenges the reader to think further about a family of concepts that might be honed out of the experience of survivors. It also calls for rethinking the idea of the Middle East itself as a region from which we could get an opening into different ways of showing what it is to be a chronicler of how life is being remade.
Hanna Kienzler, Zeina Amro
In this Think Piece we argue that mental health system reforms are not mainly driven by scientific evidence and international standards, but rather by concrete political constellations, national and international development agendas, local and global socioeconomic contexts, and the interactions between differently positioned actors. We further argue that these forces gain their influence not by being openly discussed, but precisely because they are rendered invisible and turned into what Geissler (2013) calls ‘unknown knowns’. To illustrate these complex processes, we present a case study that examines how mental health system reform processes in the West Bank are shaped by the Israeli occupation, particular political events, and unequal power relations between international and local institutional actors. Furthermore, we present critical reflections by mental health providers related to these processes, and their visions for a more sustainable mental health system. We end with an appeal to aid providers to stop characterising their work with abstract catchphrases such as ‘evidence-based’ or ‘best practice’, and call on them to be transparent about how political, economic, and social contexts shape their work on the ground.
Hansjörg Dilger, Bernhard Hadolt
What is the role of medical anthropology in a globalized world that is becoming increasingly complex and interconnected? Where does the defining domain of our subdiscipline begin and end with regard to our ‘classical’ objects of study such as ‘medicine’, ‘health system(s)’, and ‘the body’, and how is it possible to decide what constitutes the anthropologically relevant ‘context’ of these (empirically defined) research fields? How can we open the horizons of the subdisciplines of social and cultural anthropology to medical anthropology, and to what extent do the demarcations between medical anthropology and other areas of the discipline that deal with politics, economics, law, science, religion, and urban environments even make sense? Where do the inter- and transdisciplinary junctions emerge that can provide for general reflections about the themes, challenges, and positions of medical anthropology in an interconnected world?
Fiona R. Parrott, Misheck J. Nkhata, Blessings Mwandosya, Green Kapira, Aaron Ndovi, Dorothy Makoka, Levie Gondwe, Amelia C. Crampin
This photo essay uses family portraits to reflect on the complex meanings, values and calculations of fatherhood and fertility among men in Karonga District, northern Malawi. Portraits are popular in this setting, and relatively commonplace due to the entrepreneurial photographers who travel between villages and offer their services to individuals and families.
From 2011 to 2013, the men and families pictured participated in research focused on their aspirations for and experiences of fatherhood. During a series of life story interviews these rural farmers, fishermen, teachers, and skilled laborers reflected on health issues ranging from contraceptive use to care for their partners during pregnancy, to HIV testing, to infertility. The narratives in this essay are drawn from those interviews, which were conducted in the local language of Chitumbuka and then translated into English by the authors.
Stefan Reinsch, Johannes Rascher
This photo essay represents a collaboration with a group of adolescents and young adults who have cystic fibrosis, a fatal chronic disease. Through fieldwork in Berlin, Germany, we explored how young people – who often do not readily appear to be sick – integrate therapy into their daily lives and manage the visibility of their illness. The story we present below follows Tanja (a pseudonym), a young woman we first met in 2007 at an outpatient clinic, and re-encountered several times over five years. All images were taken during the first year of research by Johannes Rascher, and the text of this essay was written by Stefan Reinsch.
There’s a scene in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland where she has just eaten from the Caterpillar’s mushroom in the hopes of returning her body (which has shrunk to a mere three inches) to its usual size. The attempt goes awry, with her neck extending to a disproportionate degree. With her head now well above the tree line, Alice encounters the Pigeon, who accusingly squawks ‘Serpent!’ ‘But I’m not a serpent, I tell you’, Alice responds indignantly, pointing out that she is, in fact, ‘a little girl’. ‘A likely story indeed!’ the Pigeon demurs. ‘I’ve seen a good many little girls in my time, but never one with such a neck as that! No, no! You’re a serpent; and there’s no use denying it. I suppose you’ll be telling me next that you never tasted an egg!’ Alice is compelled to admit that she has indeed eaten eggs, but insists: ‘little girls eat eggs quite as much as serpents do, you know’. ‘I don’t believe it’, the Pigeon says; ‘but if they do, why, then, they’re a kind of serpent, that’s all I can say’ (Carroll  1980, 48–49).