Power, Change, and ‘The Culture of Psychiatry’

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Publication Date:
Jan 2014
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Non-Program Activities

It is not uncommon to encounter ‘the culture of psychiatry’ used as a descriptive or even explanatory concept in discussions of psychiatric practices and services, specifically in research addressing cultural aspects of psychiatry. Drawing on data from research on the role of culture in psychiatric services in the Boston area, this paper critically examines the attribution of a ‘culture’ to psychiatry, which is prevalent not simply in mainstream psychiatric literature, but also in certain lines of cultural psychiatry, specifically those dedicated to political and anti-racist activism. It is argued that the use of such terminology could be misleading as it implicitly attributes a sense of coherence and agency to what may best be described as a set of related discourses and sociopolitical practices. It is further suggested that, given the implications of using such terminology as ‘culture’ in our discussions of psychiatry as a social institution, a scientific discourse, or a clinical practice, it would be more fruitful to address the analytic concepts of power, meaning, and the sociopolitical functions of psychiatry instead.

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