James McGill Professor of Psychiatry; Director, Division of Social and Transcultural Psychiatry, McGill University, Montreal
Given the ongoing biologization of psychiatry, the question of how culture shapes psychopathology can be (partly) reframed in terms of influences of culture on the brain, the central concern of the emerging field of cultural neuroscience. This presentation will explore some links between three meanings of the cultural construction of the brain: (1) the brain as an object of culture: the ways in which culturally grounded metaphors construct popular and scientific understandings of the brain; (2) the brain as the organ of culture: the ways in which cultural lifeways, knowledge, and practice are acquired through neurodevelopment, learning, and plasticity; and (3) the brain as an outcome of culture: the ways in which brains differ across cultures by virtue of developmental histories and social contexts that emphasize specific modes of functioning. Despite the appeal of social and cultural neuroscience, there are reasons for concern because locating psychopathology and cultural difference in the brain encourages views of human affliction that tend to ignore the social origins of suffering and healing. Taking culture seriously demands a psychiatry that understands the brain as part of larger social, cultural, and political systems. This talk will discuss the implications for addressing cultural diversity in psychiatric theory and practice.
Laurence J. Kirmayer is James McGill Professor and Director, Division of Social and Transcultural Psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry at McGill University in Montreal. He also directs the Culture & Mental Health Research Unit at the Department of Psychiatry of the Sir Mortimer B. Davis – Jewish General Hospital in Montreal. From 1987–1993 he was a psychiatric consultant for the Inuit communities of Nunavik on the Hudson coast. He founded and co-directs the National Network for Aboriginal Mental Health Research and is a member of the Advisory Board of the Institute for Aboriginal Peoples Health. Currently, he is the principal investigator on a cross-national study of resilience among indigenous peoples in Canada and New Zealand. His past research has focused on the development and evaluation of a cultural consultation service in mental health, on cultural concepts of mental health and illness in Inuit communities, and on risk and protective factors for suicide among Inuit youth in Nunavik (Northern Québec). Selected publications: Understanding Trauma: Integrating Biological, Clinical and Cultural Perspectives (2007); Healing Traditions: The Mental Health of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada (2008). He is editor in chief of Transcultural Psychiatry, a quarterly scientific journal.