When Categories Collide: Attending to real world enactments as well as their effects
Natassia Brenman (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)
Paper short abstract:
Medical Anthropology has long been concerned with the effects of classificatory systems on social actors. However, my data-driven provocation is that this can ignore the ways different classificatory systems get enacted and put to work, compounding or contradicting one another.
Paper long abstract:
Medical Anthropology has long been concerned with the effects of structural classificatory systems on social actors, but in doing so can ignore the ways that different classificatory systems get enacted and put to work, compounding or contradicting one another. Our discipline has, for example, informed a strong "cultural critique" of the psychiatric system of categorising mental health problems, which ignores culturally contingent forms of mental distress. It has advocated for alternative models and spaces in which cultural difference and diversity can be better acknowledged. However, embarking on ethnographic fieldwork in one such space, a psychotherapy centre designed specifically for Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic and Refugee (BAMER) communities, raised a different set of anthropological concerns: does this catch-all category of ethnic or cultural 'other' to assess eligibility for care simply supplant one problematic system of categorisation with another? Both the first concern (against psychiatric categories) and the second (against ethnic othering) are valid and seek to divert damaging 'real world effects.' But they leave us with an impasse: the effects of one set of fixed categories pitted against another. My fieldwork revealed that the BAMER category was often enacted and put to work in order to deliberately disrupt the diagnostic model. In this particular setting, the loose category of minority status was shaped by the function that social actors wanted it to perform. My data-driven provocation is that we must look at situated real world enactments of categories within our investigations of their effects.
Sorting, typing, classifying: the elephants in 'our' rooms [Anthropology of Race and Ethnicity Network; Medical Anthropology Network] [Roundtable]