Event Date
Oct 07, 2011
Tria Andrews, UC Berkeley
Tala Khanmalek, UC Berkeley

Tria Andrews and Tala Khanmalek


CRG Thursday Forum Series


Writing the Body into (Well-) Being
Tala Khanmalek, Ethnic Studies

As almost all research on the Iranian diaspora states, studies about psychopathologies of Iranian immigrants including first-, second-, and third-generations are scarce although this population experiences a mental health disparity. The few studies that have been done apply limited understandings of mental health and its manifestations (via two major realms of dysfunction: externalizing or internalizing). The biomedical definition of psychological disorder considers the mind only as evidenced in the prefix “psycho-,” signifies an abnormality, and situates the problem squarely within the individual. Normative mental health practices (i.e. therapy) and psychotropic medications also operate on these presuppositions. Most importantly, the few studies that have been done fail to critically articulate the relationship between mental health and structural factors. The deficient notion of acculturation is usually referred, to both analyze stressors and to conclude that the more immigrants assimilate the less mental health problems they will have, supporting the melting pot and bicultural hypotheses of acculturation.

Mental health is of course contingent on multiple variables such as gender, sexuality, class, age, and length of residence in the U.S., not to mention one’s status as either, immigrant, refugee, or asylum seeker. However, almost all research on the Iranian diaspora mentions a relationship between discriminatory images and ideas of Middle Eastern and/or Muslim peoples, especially since 9/11, and both acculturative and psychological stress while making no formal association. In short, the discourse remains depoliticized.

My paper argues for a holistic approach to psychopathology that not only involves the body and the soul, but also social causes of dis-ease. A holistic approach therefore uses Frantz Fanon’s theory of sociogeny to study the psychology of oppression. In this case, sociogeny enables us to primarily consider what has been called “Islamophobia” and its affects on the mindbodysoul beyond informal causation. My paper further argues that the narratives of Iranian-American women already challenge dominant biomedical semantics in this way. Their stories intuitively frame the illness of their mindbodysoul’s and social detriments of health like racism. Through narrating their experiential (and embodied) knowledge, Iranian-American women become theoreticians of biomedicine, filling in the gaps of existing studies about their mental health. In addition, their accounts offer new conceptualizations of subjectivity, writing the body into (well-)being.

Interconnected Individualism and the Lakota Medicine Wheel
Tria Andrews. Ethnic Studies

Dominant narratives largely depict Native American cultural values as upholding collectivism in contrast to Western society, which supposedly promotes individualism.  While to some extent this is true, what has been largely overlooked are the ways in which Native societies emphasize the necessity of individuality within the collective community, which I term “interconnected individualism. “ According to Lakota cultural beliefs, an individual’s understanding of her role within the web of macro and micro, worldly and other worldly interconnectedness create the conditions for holistic health and healing.

At Wanbli Wiconi Tipi (WWT), the Youth Wellness and Renewal Juvenile Detention Center, located on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, the Medicine Wheel, forms the theoretical basis for rehabilitation.  While there is a common understanding of the symbolism of the Medicine Wheel among Lakota people, when explaining the Medicine Wheel, program directors often elucidate that every person must come to understand the Wheel for herself.  The role of the individual and the holistic strength one gains from practicing solitude while ever connected to the community is further evident in the culturally relevant programs and ceremonies in which the youth engage.

The Lakota conception of interconnected individualism and the Medicine Wheel evidences Mignolo’s notions of border thinking.  Reservations, themselves as a type of borderland, often comprised of people from different races and cultures, living in a manner that fuses traditional and modern ways, creates an environment for border thinking to occur.  “‘Black and white thinking,‘” or dichotomous thinking, which “‘move[s] from problem to solution,’” is also considered “‘addictive thinking.’”  In a society, which by and large thinks addictively, centering Lakota ideas about the Medicine Wheel may provide the impetus for the processes of healing to occur.