In this ten week long module students will be introduced to specific literature detailing the cultural basis of western psychology and psychiatry. This will include consideration of historical, contemporary, theoretical and applied issues. The class will understand principles underpinning the ‘new cross-cultural psychiatry’, and consideration of concepts such as relativism and universality of mental disorders across cultures, cultural validity, category errors, culture bound syndromes, and the consequences of applying a minority Euro-American psychiatry to the majority world. Based on literature from anthropology, sociology, linguistics, and health policy, students will gain knowledge on how mental health and illness are constructed and enacted in different societies, with a particular focus on South Asia

 

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That language is inescapable is an idea widely explored by seminal philosophers, semioticians and anthropologists. Freud was evidently inspired by some of them when he developed psychoanalysis at the turn of the 20th century. Vygotsky, in the Soviet Union, conceptualized language as being inherently linked with socially-constructed human though. Many decades later, Watzlawick and his colleagues rightfully argued that it is impossible not to communicate. These, and many other theoretical and methodological contributions have emphasized the key role of language to understand mind and behaviour, both at individual and collective level. Language is key, for example, to understand the workings of ideology: hegemonic symbols and meanings, and their potential for naturalization and normalization of oppression.

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image_Trk_blogFrench philosopher Paul Ricoeur demonstrates how science-fiction allows us to deconstruct our humanity in ways otherwise inconceivable in the real world. Take identity, for example. Ricoeur devises a teleportation device that could transport an individual from one planet to another, piece by piece. He asks the reader then to figure out at what point the individual’s identity is reconstructed on the other planet. Is it once the entire process is complete? When the brain and its memories are transposed? Or perhaps when the ‘soul’ finds its new destination? Identity remains an elusive subject. It can mean many things according to personal convictions and, significantly, cultural baggage. Unless identity is concretely defined within a set of parameters, its discussion will inevitably involve widely diverging formulations.

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2) BAPSA poosterIndia has one of the highest rates of suicides among people between the age of 15 and 29 years. Many of these are young adults in college and university who belong to marginalised communities. Between 2007 and 2017, 20 Dalit students committed suicide in India’s most premier institutes like IIT, IIM, AIIMS, and the University of Hyderabad. Now India’s most politically vibrant campus Jawaharlal Nehru University is also on the list with the recent suicide of a Dalit M.Phil student who hanged himself on March 13. His death leaves us dumbfounded as we seek explanations and reasons as to why he chose to end his life. Many have written about it, blaming the institution for this; many, including several student activists, found it a cowardly act. They proudly refer to Ambedkar, Birsa, Phule, Periyar, Marx and who fought the fight. Such activists perceive life in binaries: cowardly and brave; bourgeois and proletariat class; exploiter and exploited; upper and lower caste. Either you become a Gandhi or a Bhagat Singh. A middle path does not appear to be an option.

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Astute scholars involved with Global Mental Health (GMH) have recently noted “the hostile intellectual climate” which dominates the field. Indeed, since its inception, the discipline has been the recipient of many critiques by anthropologists, social scientists and local service user organizations, which have emphasized its role in promoting Western biomedical interventions that lack in cultural validity and neglect the role of socio-economic determinants of mental health . In doing so, it has been perceived as failing to address the ‘ecologies of suffering’ of the people with whom it claims to engage. However, key advocates of the GMH movement have recently responded to these critiques by claiming that the discipline had undertaken efforts to practically address these issues.

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Interdisciplinary is a buzzword these days- one needs to cross-over rigid academic disciplines to solve real life problems which require a multi-faceted approach. In the UK, interdisciplinarity seems to be normatively accepted, even an admirable practice within the Universities. UCL itself clearly emphasizes its focus on interdisciplinary research which in part contributes to its modern progressive research and learning environment. But to quote David Wood (from an article in Nature, 2015), “There’s a huge push to call your work interdisciplinary… but there’s still resistance to doing actual interdisciplinary science.” Building up on this paradox, I’ll discuss, in this post, some of my own reflections on doing an interdisciplinary project. How does one approach interdisciplinary projects- are they just the new academic fad or a new paradigm of research in an ever so complex world?

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I have crossed over, and there is no coming back from that. I have crossed oceans and national borders, going from Ecuador to the UK and back. But I have also navigated through cultures and subcultures, guided by the idea that human wellbeing (what my formal training taught me to call “mental health”) cannot be separated from social context. Months ago, I returned to London after doing one year of fieldwork in my hometown of Guayaquil, in the coastal region of Ecuador. There, I spent most of my time-sharing the daily lives of psychology students, both undergraduate and graduate. I also witnessed how they diagnose and intervene locally, dealing with pervasive experiences of violence, particularly in urban neighborhoods labeled as “marginal”, “vulnerable” and “dangerous”.

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