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Psychiatry through the Ethnographic Lens

International Journal of Social Psychiatry , Volume 52 (1) – Mar 1, 2006


Sage Publications
© 2006 by SAGE Publications
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Psychiatry through the Ethnographic Lens


The title of this article is deliberately chosen and reflects its agenda: to outline the contribution of ethnography to psychiatry. Ethnography is the study of culture through intensive participation, observation and listening. The postmodernists remind us that it is also the writing of culture (literally translated from the Greek). And in focusing on the writing of ethnographic texts they have alerted us to the problematic nature of transferring observation and experience into text. But an ethnographic account of psychiatry is possible only to the extent that we accept that psychiatry and the illnesses with which it deals are parts of culture. Anthropologists have long argued that psychiatric theory and practice are best understood using the same interpretive tools as are applied to other areas of cultural life, be it religion, cosmology or magic.
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