Borderlands

By Bartholomew, Robert | Skeptic (Altadena, CA), Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

Borderlands


Bartholomew, Robert, Skeptic (Altadena, CA)


DEVIANCE, PSYCHIATRY AND CULTURAL RELATIVISM

"MAN: MAKER OF TOOLS, RULES, AND MORAL JUDGMENTS."--PHILIP K. BOCK [1]

ADHERING TO SCIENTIFIC PRINCIPLES HAS REAPED enormous rewards for humanity. This is most evident in the physical and biological sciences that seek to uncover universal laws. The same experiment conducted under identical conditions should yield the same outcome regardless of historical or cultural context. But in the social sciences the outcome is often more social than science--it is difficult to discover laws because we are dealing with a subject that is less predictable and more difficult to measure--human behavior. When we throw in the mix normative values in assessing, for example, whether a behavior is normal or abnormal, we are faced with a daunting task if we wish to maintain that we are doing science.

At the heart of the matter is how to reconcile that what is considered right rational, healthy, moral and legal for one culture or time period may be viewed as wrong, irrational, sick, immoral and illegal in another. Are there universal norms and behavior standards, and if so, how do we determine them? If we use science we face another dilemma. Science is dominated by Western norms and values. What may seem unequivocally right or wrong when viewed through Western eyes is often a political product of the social and cultural Zeitgeist. The problem is compounded by the fact that when scientists classify certain behaviors as abnormal, this process itself lends credence to the designation of deviance. Science is not a value-neutral enterprise that dispassionately applies universal scientific principles to explain, diagnose and treat conduct deemed as abnormal. Classificatory taxonomies of abnormal behavior are not elements in nature awaiting description like species.

HUMAN DIVERSITY THE ETHNOGRAPHIC RECORD

We begin with the problem that scientific methods used to justify classifying behaviors into such dichotomies as normal and abnormal, moral and immoral, legal and illegal often reflect the evaluators' norms, values, and beliefs at a particular time and place. [2] The ethnographic record shows that across cultures and historical eras, the variation in norms, values, practices and beliefs is dynamic and extreme. Examples include cannibalism, head-hunting, and polyandry (having multiple husbands at one time) as established cultural traditions among certain peoples, while Western medicine has justified colonization, slavery, and blood-letting based on prevailing folk realities. This point is crucial because it often appears that no one in their "right mind" would engage in what seems to be obviously sick, disordered or immoral behavior, yet we do so regularly with behaviors deemed abnormal by our standards.

Normality is not an objective given from which simple assessments of behavior can be rendered independent of historical era, culture, or group. Not surprisingly, many of the earliest challenges to narrow universalist conceptions of normality were from cultural anthropologists familiar with an array of behavior patterns that were accepted within their respective settings. Edward Sapir noted the importance, especially for psychiatrists, of the wide variation and plasticity of normality across cultures as "personalities are not conditioned by a generalized process of adjustment to the 'normal' but by the necessity of adjustment to the greatest possible variety of idea and action patterns according to the accidents of birth and biography." [3] Ruth Benedict observed that normality "within a very wide range, is culturally defined," and therefore psychiatrists should resist using a set list of symptoms in determining abnormality, but should instead examine how a certain constellation of behaviors align with the de ep structural values, beliefs and mores of the culture. [4]

The ethnographic record of acceptable or institutionalized behaviors is remarkable. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Borderlands
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.