Accepted Paper:

'Just telling it like it is?' The origins of suicidal behavior of immigrant young women in the Netherlands entangled in feminist truth claims and the politics of multiculturalism  


Diana van Bergen (The Netherlands Institute for Social Research)

Paper short abstract:

The paper discusses how conflicting political and feminist interests relate to the ideological quest for the engagement of the researcher with the successful prevention of suicidal behavior of young immigrant women.

Paper long abstract:

The phenomenon of suicidal behavior attracts deep-felt concern by the public, politicians as well as researchers. In the paper I discuss the interplay of feminist knowledge creation, political interests and mental health promotion during the course of my PhD project that focused on the origins of suicidal behavior of young immigrant women in The Netherlands. Based on life story interviews with South-Asian Surinamese, Moroccan and Turkish young women I demonstrated how suicidal behavior was influenced by the ability and right to act autonomously with regard to strategic life choices, as well as by the questioning of cultural norms that valued self-sacrifice and honor protection. In addition, feelings of personal inadequacy and a lack of connection within the family emerged as important influences to their suicidal behavior. The study was undertaken in the Netherlands at a time that the public and political discourse in the country had shifted from being in favour of cultural diversity to opposing multiculturalism. Ambivalence emerged over the knowledge creation that pointed at the symbolization of a suicide attempt as originating from victimhood amidst oppressive conditions. How does this relate to feminist theories of agency? Moreover, there were potential risks that the results would be captured by right wing politicians as evidence of backwardness of Islamic culture resulting in restrictions of immigration or immigrants' rights, and be counterproductive to women's mental health. Furthermore the results could be considered a backlash to immigrant women who had never experienced oppressive conditions and for whom hostility toward their religion or culture and stereotyping may be underscored.

Panel P11
Current concerns in contemporary critical medical ethnography: resisting a structural anaemia in respect to a new politics of evidence