Empathy and Healing

Empathy and Healing: Essays in Medical and Narrative Anthropology

Vieda Skultans
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 294
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qcmhv
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  • Book Info
    Empathy and Healing
    Book Description:

    For more than three decades the author has been concerned with issues to do with emotion, suffering and healing. This volume presents ethnographic studies of South Wales, Maharashtra and post-Soviet Latvia connected by a theoretical interest in healing, emotion and subjectivity. Exploring the uses of narrative in the shaping of memory, autobiography and illness and its connections with the master narratives of history and culture, it focuses on the post-Soviet clinic as an arena in which the contradictions of a liberal economy are translated into a medical language.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-036-4
    Subjects: Anthropology, Health Sciences
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures (pp. vii-vii)
  4. List of Tables (pp. viii-viii)
  5. Note on Site of Original Publication (pp. ix-x)
  6. 1 Introduction (pp. 1-15)

    When I first joined the Department of Anthropology in 1966 at University College London, social anthropology had a different face. That year two of my tutors published work that was to become highly influential. Mary Douglas’s bookPurity and Dangerappeared in 1966 as did Ioan Lewis’s article ‘Spirit Possession and Deprivation Cults’ in a journal that was then calledMan(his thesis on deprivation cults was later to be developed inEcstatic Religion, 1971). Thus two powerful advocates of structuralist and functionalist thought introduced me to anthropology. Both Mary and Ioan had, in their different ways, a facility for...

  7. 2 Empathy and Healing: Aspects of Spiritualist Ritual (pp. 16-29)

    This chapter deals with responses to pain and sickness among Spiritualists. It illustrates the close connections between the anthropology of medicine and of religion. Religious attention is frequently focussed on health and illness. Only by including ritual activity can a full understanding be gained of the meaning of sickness and pain for the patient. Spiritualism is one field where ritual matters and health matters are inextricably interwoven.

    Before presenting the ethnographic material, the level at which sickness is being considered must be indicated. A theme in everyday thought as well as in theoretical discussion is one which recognizes a distinction...

  8. 3 Bodily Madness and the Spread of the Blush (pp. 30-42)

    This chapter explores some themes and episodes in the emergence and development of the idea of insanity during the early nineteenth century. It considers the social and intellectual climate that was necessary for the idea of insanity to gain a public foothold. It also describes the peculiar bodily preoccupations which this new idea of insanity generated.

    Several writers have sought to explain the growth of asylums and the elaboration of ideas about insanity which took place in the latter part of the eighteenth century. Foucault (1971), for example, sees the goals of the asylum as primarily intellectual and insanity as...

  9. 4 The Symbolic Significance of Menstruation and the Menopause (pp. 43-57)

    This chapter is based on a medical anthropological study I conducted in 1970 in South Wales. I chose menstruation and the menopause as subjects of research for several reasons. Firstly, I noted that more than any other period of time in a woman’s life, the menopause had gained popular attention as a topic of concern, apprehension and speculation. Furthermore, it has been selected by popular terminology as a period of transitionpar excellence. The corresponding processes of biological change at puberty, for example, have no such popular designation, nor do they command the same degree of attention. I, therefore, realized...

  10. 5 Women and Affliction in Maharastra: A Hydraulic Model of Health and Illness (pp. 58-95)

    Beliefs about the nature of spiritual affliction, its epidemiology and aetiology vary according to gender, family structure and position within the family. One manifestation of affliction is thought to be madness. However, the experience of mental affliction is very varied; for example, the number of family members accompanying an afflicted person, the amount of money made available for treatment, the length of treatment, as well as the less tangible but equally important aspects of treatment such as the degree of empathy and concern felt, all vary according to the afflicted person’s gender and status within the family. The inferiority of...

  11. 6 Anthropology and Psychiatry: The Uneasy Alliance (pp. 96-111)

    The subtitle ‘the uneasy alliance’ reflects the history of the relationship between psychiatry and anthropology. This chapter¹ explores some of the sources of that uneasiness and mutual suspicion. It consists of three parts. The first considers the history of ideas about ‘primitive’ mentalities and mental illness and the spur this has provided to the anthropological analysis of psychiatric beliefs and practices. The relativist assumptions of this position are examined. The second explores the divergent preoccupations of anthropologists and psychiatrists and the way in which differences in intellectual orientation have led to conflicting ideas as to what constitutes cross-cultural research. The...

  12. 7 Remembering and Forgetting: Anthropology and Psychiatry – The Changing Relationship (pp. 112-121)

    I propose in this chapter to look at the sources of solidarity and difference between anthropology and psychiatry. Historically there is more uniting than dividing the two disciplines. Differences are of recent origin and relate to the more radical role that anthropology has assumed towards memory and other psychological processes. This turn in anthropology is in line with postmodernist trends and leaves psychiatry outside. I want to explore the nature of this bifurcation by focusing on memory. Until relatively recently memory was the preserve of psychologists and psychiatrists. Its appropriation by social anthropologists and its very differently perceived status and...

  13. 8 A Historical Disorder: Neurasthenia and the Testimony of Lives in Latvia (pp. 122-138)

    Neurasthenic illnesses in Latvia embody many of the contradictions and difficulties of life under Soviet rule.¹ In trying to understand the Latvian experience of neurasthenia I address two interrelated theoretical issues. First, I examine the implications of viewing autobiographies of illness as alternative histories. I look at the ways in which the medicalization enterprise is restricted if a whole life is brought into consideration. When life histories translate injury into collective trauma they succeed in hindering the transformation of planned state violence and terrorization into medical knowledge.² And second, if Latvian illness narratives are ‘evocative transcripts’ of resistance, where does...

  14. 9 Narratives of the Body and History : Illness in Judgement on the Soviet Past (pp. 139-155)

    This chapter examines the ways in which resistance to authority in Soviet Latvia has come to be experienced as illness, and how narratives of the body and its sufferings are used to articulate a political critique of history and society. The research project started out as a study of neurasthenia. My initial sample consisted of more than sixty letter writers who responded to two newspaper advertisements inviting them to write to me about their illness. Most wrote about their past lives, of which illness was seen as the logical outcome. Illness was intertwined with the life course yet seldom singled...

  15. 10 From Damaged Nerves to Masked Depression: Inevitability and Hope in Latvian Psychiatric Narratives (pp. 156-174)

    Rapid changes in Latvian psychiatric thinking and practice over the last decade raise questions about the nature of distress, of mental illness, its relationship to changes in styles of psychiatric reasoning and to political and economic changes in society. Social differentiation in Latvian society has led to a proliferation of narratives and the transformation of subjectivities. This chapter explores the movement from a somatic to a psychological language of distress and considers the ways in which these changes link with ideas of agency, victimhood and shared versus private articulations of pain. This chapter then lies between three domains and three...

  16. 11 Looking for a Subject: Latvian Memory and Narrative (pp. 175-189)

    Latvia lost about one fifth of its population during and after the Second World War. In addition to immediate killings this loss was made up of deaths resulting from deportations and imprisonment in labour camps. The scale of deaths means that there are few Latvian families without personal knowledge of such killings. Indeed, deportation has come to occupy a central place in the construction of national identity.

    However, as Roberts Kilis (1996) has noted, there is relatively little historical research which engages with this phase of the past, despite its central importance for Latvian consciousness. Such writing as there is...

  17. 12 The Expropriated Harvest: Narratives of Deportation and Collectivization in North-East Latvia (pp. 190-204)

    This chapter is based on extended visits to the parish of Drusti, in the province of Vidzeme in Latvia between 1992 and 1993. My introduction to Drusti was through a seventy-year-old country woman who replied to my newspaper advertisement inviting people to write to me about their health. Mara wrote at considerable length describing not only her medical history but also her life history and in so doing a slice of the social history of the parish. I first met her in the summer of 1992. Not only was she a willing and fluent talker, but she was keen to...

  18. 13 Narratives of Landscape in Latvian History and Memory (pp. 205-223)

    My fieldwork was carried out over a period of ten months between 1992 and 1993 and three months in 1999 and involved listening to over a hundred life histories. My proposed study was of neurasthenia, the most commonly used diagnosis in the former Soviet Union which relates to such symptoms as tiredness, anxiety and irritability – conditions most of us are familiar with at some time or another under another name. As so often happens in anthropological projects–particularly those dealing with illness– I found the fieldwork expanding, in my case moving inexorably back in time to events some forty or...

  19. 14 Arguing with the KGB Archives: Archival and Narrative Memory in Post-Soviet Latvia (pp. 224-243)

    The history of the Baltic states since the Second World War, their violent Soviet annexation, the extent of political dissent and the more recent ambiguities in government attitudes towards the Soviet past all serve to underline the importance of an anthropology which recognizes the creative and dissenting power of the self. This chapter will argue that the possibility of political dissent, both as expressed in action and in narrative, as well as our understanding of it, hinge upon the restitution of an enlarged and to some extent autonomous self. The opening of the KGB archives in Riga, the accessibility of...

  20. 15 Varieties of Deception and Distrust: Moral Dilemmas in the Ethnography of Psychiatry (pp. 244-263)

    Ethnographic encounters with patients and their psychiatrists bring ethical dilemmas into painful focus. The title of my chapter was deliberately chosen to reflect what I see as a central ethical problem in psychiatric practice. Deception and distrust characterize the relationship between Latvians and wider society and these qualities have inevitably come to shape the relationship between patients and their psychiatrists. What Frank describes as ‘the subversive voice’ (2001: 360) of suffering is a protest against the ideological voice of psychiatry.

    The very rapid economic liberalization of the Baltic states and its problematic relationship with an unrealistic philosophy of limitless individual...

  21. Bibliography (pp. 264-278)
  22. Index (pp. 279-282)


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