“It is generally accepted that schizophrenia is a condition in which the person alters his representation of reality in order to escape or withdraw from seemingly unresolvable conflicts and from social interactions that are painful. ”(Nancy quotes Hill, Lewis B 1955) as important defining quote of what is incorporated in characteristics of schizophrenia.
In the mid 1970’s, in rural Ireland, cases of mental illness and schizophrenia was abnormally high; Nancy Scheper in her ethnography uncovers possible reasoning behind this with her personal experience in Ballybran, a village on the west coast of Ireland which consisted of a small population of farmers, fishermen and shepherds. In this community we find a vast amount melancholy among the people, where overly conservative Roman Catholic ideals were held in high respects, and past economic down fall still haunted the community.
During this time there was a transition of farming from being the normal contingency for the next generations into a contrast of where emigrating and scholar work was the path chosen by the majority of youth. Nancy Scheper-Hughes, a PhD in Anthropology, specializing in medical and socioculture, is presently a highly renowned professor at Berkley University in California, and her family of five including her husband and three children relocated to Ireland from the States.
She wrote a critical ethnography of the people of western Ireland during the 1970’s and the relevance of the social environment that possibly contributed to the development schizophrenia, as well as other mental illness. When looking at what is considered madness in rural Ireland, its necessary to be look in the perspective of the culture, and neglect own personal opinions molded by own social upbringing, this permits the anthropologist or reader to able to understand what is considered the norm of the particular case in contrast to personal expectations.
Nancy allowed herself to experience a new erspective, and objectively write a description of how she interpreted her life in Ballybran. Anomie, the break down of social ties within a community, had developed as a trend in western Ireland; this identifies a major characteristic of the village Ballybran. Nancy used methods of medical statistical analysis, as well as, personal informal interviewing to develop the overall thesis of her ethnography. The identity of the culture was depicted and scrutinized in almost all means, through economic history, dominance of religion, family, social ties, and future prospects, as well as, expectations.
Several themes were introduced throughout the book pertaining to reasoning behind personality development of people who are considered to be schizophrenic, and the tendencies in which seemed to form a pattern among patients. Religion, family structure, and social development were analyzed first hand to create connections to the statistical work, often the use of TAT cards, that was tested on those hospitalized for mental illness, as well as subjects in the rural community. Strong traditional Roman Catholics dominated Ireland, therefore implemented high standards of celibacy, shame, and sexism.
This formed to what was seen as an idealistic life style of pure, timid and guilt driven morals. A large part of Nancy’s study focused on the celibacy and the sexual awkwardness that was common among most men, and highly noticeable in patients that were being treated for schizophrenia. In cases the men grew up to be unable to express sexual needs in a normal matter, causing un-satisfaction and unhealthy expressions of sexuality, sometimes in a aggressive or inappropriate matter.
Even as young children they were shielded from anything that may imply or raise questions that refers to sexual contact. Things such as pregnancy and birth were hidden and seen as a private matter among the mother that was kept secret from the community, sometimes even the husband for a sustainable period of time. The attitude towards sex was implemented as shameful, dirty, and guilt covered. Older men, 30’s- late 40’s, were the most common relevance of schizophrenia, which Nancy implies has part to do with sexual repression of these men.
Hopelessness was often common, and sexual appendages were seen as a burden, Nancy used a personal portrait of one of the patients of the hospital to show this. (pg. 331) It seems Ballybran was “ caught in between old and new social systems and moral economics” (pg. 49). The Family structure was also a large part of development unusual social habits; children were neglected of personal interaction with mother necessary for early neurological development, but at the same time overly protected by isolation at a young age.
Children were made tough by being beaten at home, school, and church and began to associate human touch with negative attributes instead of comfort. They were beaten into what was considered to be “a good Irish child”, expected to be quiet, out of sight, and not to ask for things such as sweets or attention. Depending on gender and position of being born, whether it to be first born child or the runt of the family, led to differences of their responsibilities into adulthood.
The last born sons began to be expected to stay home and inherit the farm, Become the “scapegoat” of the family through their illness, forcing ambitions of emigrating and other life styles to be repressed by burdens of parents and work of the farm. In cases such as jimmy and Robert that Nancy used in the book, the older child being the “pet”, achieved son Robert, while the other son was stuck in the shadow and seen as a disappointment, represented by Jimmy. Robert was a successfully and immigrated to the United States, leaving Jimmy the younger brother to stay home.
The community built these types of men with using methods of guilt and crippling aspirations of the individuals. Another normality within the community was grown dependence on kinship of mothers, the men often became permanent bachelors, never leaving home and finding a wife. Even when there were a promising women in the mans life, the mother would intentionally sabotage the relationship, in many cases making it impossible for the women to enter the family, and always be treated as an outsider. This family dynamic lead to the controlling role of the mother often described by many subjects in her investigation.
Saints, Scholars, and Schizophrenics exist at the nexus of anthropology, psychology, and philosophy” (2002 Gina Zavota). Nancy Scheper-Hughes and her in-depth look into the culture of western rural Ireland was detailed, in both her personal experience, but also supported by a vast amount of outside research and help of the medical community. Human experiences were portrayed in her book, forming abundant of evidence that developed her hypothesis and what constructed a true idea of social aspects possibly being a part of development of mental illness and schizophrenia.
As a medical, as well as a socioculture anthropologist, Nancy uncovered social reasoning to the disease, while not neglecting the role of biogenetics. The ethnography clearly states the investigation into schizophrenia, and the popular debate of how culture and social factors contribute versus purely biological attributes. Psychoanalysis was an important tool to find common personality traits that were associated with schizophrenia, and became very important in tell into the patients mind.
She organizes her ideas well, separating themes into different culturally recognized units, but in the end is able connect everything to the personality development of individuals. The examples of social development in saints, scholars and schizophrenics gives readers perspective of how different cultures can influence mental stability, Nancy uses examples of statistics of schizophrenia in America and Japan, showing how a change in culture can relate to the people that are most commonly affected by the disease, while re-enforcing the idea of social aspects being a contributor to mental illness.
The only issue personally found in this book, was the large emphasis placed on sexual relationships, she went beyond just supporting her theory of mental health and introduced another topic thesis of immature sexuality. It created a viewpoint to the reader of that sexual relationships were the key contributors to schizophrenia, where all social aspects, such as religion and family, could be equally be responsible or emphasizes. All themes were vastly supported and recognizable, she used examples and patient’s stories effectively and in a corresponding matter.
The academic world, as well as many anthropologists praises Saints, Scholars, and Schizophrenics for its thorough look into mental illness with a philosophical approach to social context. The question of what causes people with similar upbringing and genetic code to be separated into normal adults or people that suffer with disease and illness associated with mental health; what is the pushing factor of human psychology? Nancy Scheper-Hughes research has aided the ability of being able to identify this with schizophrenics.
Courtney from Study Moose
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