Cultures and Knowledge Workshop Reading List: "Translating the Global, Assembling the Social: The (Re-)Emergence of Community Mental Health in China"

May 6th, 2021

On May 10, the Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge will present "Translating the Global, Assembling the Social: The (Re-)Emergence of Community Mental Health in China" as the final installment of their Cultures and Knowledge Workshop series for Spring Term. This workshop will be presented by Zhiying Ma.

After its decay over the past two decades, community mental health has re-emerged in China since 2004. In the 1970s and 1980s, community mental health in China consisted of local experiments praised by the World Health Organization as models for developing countries. Nowadays, however, it consists mostly of programs that import global knowledge, agendas, or funds for “community” construction in the country. The “community” to be constructed conjures various social utopias, ranging from an accessible network of primary care that the global mental health movement seeks to scale up, to space for inclusion and empowerment that the Euro-American recovery movement promotes. This talk uses Zhiying Ma's preliminary historical and ethnographic research to examine why community mental health has re-emerged in China as a frontline of social development, and how stakeholders translate forms of global knowledge and make them commensurable with domestic situations (or vice versa), given the ever-shifting visions and techniques of governance in the country.


About the presenter: Zhiying Ma is an Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice. She is a cultural and medical anthropologist and a scholar of disability studies. Her work concerns how cultural, politico-economic, and technological factors shape the design and implementation of social policies, and how national policies and global development initiatives in turn impact health in/equity, vulnerability, and rights, with a focus on contemporary China. She holds a joint Ph.D. in Comparative Human Development and Anthropology at the University of Chicago. She received her bachelor's degrees in psychology and in philosophy from Peking University, China. In 2016-2018, she was an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Postdoctoral Fellow at the Michigan Society of Fellows, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. 

Below is a list of further reading on the topic of the workshop, compiled by Professor Ma:

The Invention of Madness: State, Society, and the Insane in Modern China
(University of Chicago Press)

Emily Baum

Throughout most of history, in China the insane were kept within the home and treated by healers who claimed no specialized knowledge of their condition. In the first decade of the twentieth century, however, psychiatric ideas and institutions began to influence longstanding beliefs about the proper treatment for the mentally ill. In The Invention of Madness, Emily Baum traces a genealogy of insanity from the turn of the century to the onset of war with Japan in 1937, revealing the complex and convoluted ways in which “madness” was transformed in the Chinese imagination into “mental illness.” Focusing on typically marginalized historical actors, including municipal functionaries and the urban poor, The Invention of Madness shifts our attention from the elite desire for modern medical care to the ways in which psychiatric discourses were implemented and redeployed in the midst of everyday life. New meanings and practices of madness, Baum argues, were not just imposed on the Beijing public but continuously invented by a range of people in ways that reflected their own needs and interests. Exhaustively researched and theoretically informed, The Invention of Madness is an innovative contribution to medical history, urban studies, and the social history of twentieth-century China.


Everyday Ethics: Voices from the Front Line of Community Psychiatry
(University of California Press)

Paul Brodwin

This book explores the moral lives of mental health clinicians serving the most marginalized individuals in the US healthcare system. Drawing on years of fieldwork in a community psychiatry outreach team, Brodwin traces the ethical dilemmas and everyday struggles of front line providers. On the street, in staff room debates, or in private confessions, these psychiatrists and social workers confront ongoing challenges to their self-image as competent and compassionate advocates. At times they openly question the coercion and forced-dependency built into the current system of care. At other times they justify their use of extreme power in the face of loud opposition from clients. This in-depth study exposes the fault lines in today's community psychiatry. It shows how people working deep inside the system struggle to maintain their ideals and manage a chronic sense of futility. Their commentaries about the obligatory and the forbidden also suggest ways to bridge formal bioethics and the realities of mental health practice. The experiences of these clinicians pose a single overarching question: how should we bear responsibility for the most vulnerable among us?


Infectious Change: Reinventing Chinese Public Health After an Epidemic
(Stanford University Press)

Katherine Mason

In February 2003, a Chinese physician crossed the border between mainland China and Hong Kong, spreading Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) to over a dozen international hotel guests. SARS went on to kill about 800 people and sicken 8,000 worldwide. By the time it disappeared in July 2003 the Chinese public health system, once famous for its grassroots, low-technology approach, was transformed into a globally-oriented, research-based, scientific endeavor. In Infectious Change, Katherine A. Mason investigates local Chinese public health institutions in Southeastern China, examining how the outbreak of SARS re-imagined public health as a professionalized, biomedicalized, and technological machine—one that frequently failed to serve the Chinese people. Mason grapples with how public health in China was reinvented into a prestigious profession in which global recognition took precedent over service to vulnerable local communities. This book lays bare the common elements of a global pandemic that too often get overlooked, all of which are being thrown into sharp relief during the present COVID-19 outbreak: blame of "exotic" customs from the country of origin and the poor bearing the most severe consequences. Mason's argument resonates profoundly with our current crisis, making the case that we can only consider ourselves truly prepared for the next crisis once public health policies, and social welfare more generally, are made more inclusive.


A Disability of the Soul: An Ethnography of Schizophrenia and Mental Illness in Contemporary Japan (Cornell University Press)
Karen Nakamura

Bethel House, located in a small fishing village in northern Japan, was founded in 1984 as an intentional community for people with schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders. Using a unique, community approach to psychosocial recovery, Bethel House focuses as much on social integration as on therapeutic work. As a centerpiece of this approach, Bethel House started its own businesses in order to create employment and socialization opportunities for its residents and to change public attitudes toward the mentally ill, but also quite unintentionally provided a significant boost to the distressed local economy. Through its work programs, communal living, and close relationship between hospital and town, Bethel has been remarkably successful in carefully reintegrating its members into Japanese society. It has become known as a model alternative to long-term institutionalization. In A Disability of the Soul, Karen Nakamura explores how the members of this unique community struggle with their lives, their illnesses, and the meaning of community. Told through engaging historical narrative, insightful ethnographic vignettes, and compelling life stories, her account of Bethel House depicts its achievements and setbacks, its promises and limitations. A Disability of the Soul is a sensitive and multidimensional portrait of what it means to live with mental illness in contemporary Japan.



Anxious China: Inner Revolution and Politics of Psychotherapy
(University of California Press)

Li Zhang

The breathless pace of China’s economic reform has brought about deep ruptures in socioeconomic structures and people’s inner landscape. Faced with increasing market-driven competition and profound social changes, more and more middle-class urbanites are turning to Western-style psychological counseling to grapple with their mental distress. This book offers an in-depth ethnographic account of how an unfolding “inner revolution” is reconfiguring selfhood, psyche, family dynamics, sociality, and the mode of governing in post-socialist times. Li Zhang shows that anxiety—broadly construed in both medical and social terms—has become a powerful indicator for the general pulse of contemporary Chinese society. It is in this particular context that Zhang traces how a new psychotherapeutic culture takes root, thrives, and transforms itself across a wide range of personal, social, and political domains.

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