Bioethics Blogs

Luhrmann and Marrow’s Our Most Troubling Madness by Murphy Halliburton

Our Most Troubling Madness: Case Studies in Schizophrenia Across Cultures

T.M. Luhrmann and Jocelyn Marrow, editors

University of California Press, 2016, 304 pages


A key premise of this volume of ethnographic case studies is that schizophrenia, or the various conditions we label as schizophrenia and related psychoses, varies in crucial ways in terms of experience, prognosis and outcome in different sociocultural contexts. Tanya Luhrmann’s introduction to the volume, which features twelve articles presenting twelve individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia (including three cases presented by Luhrmann), casts doubt on the biomedical model of schizophrenia, or at least the strong biomedical model where an individual’s biology is the determining factor in the pathogenesis of schizophrenia. Support for this critique comes from within the fields of psychiatry, psychology and related disciplines, and not just from anthropology, the disciplinary home base of many of the authors in this compilation. This supports the volume’s efforts to speak to an audience beyond the contributors’ own disciplines and “serve as a positive catalyst for change” in how we treat psychosis, especially in European and North American settings (5).

The introduction also briefly traces the history of theories of schizophrenia in psychiatry and anthropology, including moments when the two fields overlapped as with Gregory Bateson’s theory that schizophrenia results from a “double bind” that develops in a person’s psyche from conflicting social cues. This theory, put forth by an anthropologist, had a significant place in psychiatrists’ understanding of pathogenesis until the rise of the medical model deflected the blame from families toward “random bad genetic luck” (16).

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