Beyond the 'new cross-cultural psychiatry': cultural biology, discursive psychology and the ironies of globalization

Transcult Psychiatry. 2006 Mar;43(1):126-44. doi: 10.1177/1363461506061761.


The 'new cross-cultural psychiatry' heralded by Kleinman in 1977 promised a revitalized tradition that gave due respect to cultural difference and did not export psychiatric theories that were themselves culture bound. In the ensuing years, the view of culture within anthropology has continued to change, along with our understanding of the relationship of biological processes to cultural diversity, and the global political economic contexts in which mental health care is delivered. This article considers the implications of these new notions of culture, biology and the context of practice for theory in cultural psychiatry. The future of cultural psychiatry lies in advancing a broad perspective that: (a) is inherently multidisciplinary (involving psychiatric epidemiology, medical anthropology and sociology, cognitive science and social psychology), breaking down the nature/culture dichotomy with an integrative view of culture as a core feature of human biology, while remaining alert to cultural constructions of biological theory; (b) attends to psychological processes but understands these as not exclusively located within the individual but as including discursive processes that are fundamentally social; and (c) critically examines the interaction of both local and global systems of knowledge and power. Globalization has brought with it many ironies for cultural psychiatry: Transnational migrations have resulted in cultural hybridization at the same time as ethnicity has become more salient; the call for evidence-based medicine has been used to limit the impact of cultural research; and cultural psychiatry itself has been co-opted by pharmaceutical companies to inform marketing campaigns to promote conventional treatments for new populations. Cultural psychiatry must address these ironies to develop the self-critical awareness and flexibility needed to deliver humane care in shifting contexts.

MeSH terms

  • Biology*
  • Culture*
  • Humans
  • International Cooperation*
  • Psychiatry / methods*
  • Psychology*

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