Suffering and its professional transformation: toward an ethnography of interpersonal experience

Cult Med Psychiatry. 1991 Sep;15(3):275-301. doi: 10.1007/BF00046540.


The authors define experience as an intersubjective medium of microcultural and infrapolitical processes in which something is at stake for participants in local worlds. Experience so defined mediates (and transforms) the relationship between context and person, meaning and psychobiology in health and illness and in healing. Building on this theoretical background, an approach to ethnography is illustrated through an analysis of suffering in Chinese society. The embodied memory of a survivor of serious trauma during the Cultural Revolution provides an example. From there, the authors go on to describe a framework of indigenous Chinese categories for the analysis of experience--mianzi (face), quanxi (connections), renqing (situated emotion), bao (reciprocity). The paper concludes with a discussion of the existential limits of this and other anthropological approaches to the study of experience as moral process.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • China
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Morals
  • Personality Development
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Politics
  • Sick Role*
  • Social Change
  • Social Environment
  • Social Support*
  • Somatoform Disorders / psychology*