10 June 2016

Cultural constructions of illness

"The Diseases You Only Get if You Believe in Them" (2016, The Atlantic) looks at certain forms of illness that are culturally specific. In this piece, Julie Beck interviews Frank Bures, author of The Geography of Madness: Penis Thieves, Voodoo Death, and the Search for the Meaning of the World’s Strangest Syndromes (2016).

Although Bures' book begins and ends with the 'exotic' cultural syndrome of penis theft in places like Nigeria and China, the interview provides a really interesting discussion of cultural syndromes in general, and asks "why the United States is not immune from them, and why asking if they’re “real” is the wrong question."

Some interesting points for discussion here include  the cultural imperialism and ethnocentrism of Western medical knowledge above understandings of health and illness in other cultures, and a critical reflection on how Western experiences of health/ illness are also culturally constructed.