Culture and PTSD: Trauma in Global and Historical Perspective

Culture and PTSD: Trauma in Global and Historical Perspective

Culture and PTSD: Trauma in Global and Historical Perspective

Culture and PTSD: Trauma in Global and Historical Perspective


Since the 1970s, understanding of the effects of trauma, including flashbacks and withdrawal, has become widespread in the United States. As a result Americans can now claim that the phrase posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is familiar even if the American Psychiatric Association's criteria for diagnosis are not. As embedded as these ideas now are in the American mindset, however, they are more widely applicable, this volume attempts to show, than is generally recognized. The essays in Culture and PTSD trace how trauma and its effects vary across historical and cultural contexts.

Culture and PTSD examines the applicability of PTSD to other cultural contexts and details local responses to trauma and the extent they vary from PTSD as defined in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Investigating responses in Peru, Indonesia, Haiti, and Native American communities as well as among combat veterans, domestic abuse victims, and adolescents, contributors attempt to address whether PTSD symptoms are present and, if so, whether they are a salient part of local responses to trauma. Moreover, the authors explore other important aspects of the local presentation and experience of trauma-related disorder, whether the Western concept of PTSD is known to lay members of society, and how the introduction of PTSD shapes local understandings and the course of trauma-related disorders.

By attempting to determine whether treatments developed for those suffering PTSD in American and European contexts are effective in global settings of violence or disaster, Culture and PTSD questions the efficacy of international responses that focus on trauma.

Contributors: Carmela Alcántara, Tom Ball, James K. Boehnlein, Naomi Breslau, Whitney Duncan, Byron J. Good, Mary-Jo DelVecchio Good, Jesse H. Grayman, Bridget M. Haas, Devon E. Hinton, Erica James, Janis H. Jenkins, Hanna Kienzler, Brandon Kohrt, Roberto Lewis-Fernández, Richard J. McNally, Theresa D. O'Nell, Duncan Pedersen, Nawaraj Upadhaya, Carol M. Worthman, Allan Young.


Byron J. Good and Devon E. Hinton

Since the 1970s, the terms “trauma,” “posttraumatic stress disorder” (or PTSD), and “trauma treatment” have become so much a part of everyday language in the United States that they seem to most Americans to name natural realities. Although the general public could hardly recite the criteria of the most recent American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual—the DSM-5—the image of persons suffering intensive, recurrent memories or flashbacks of traumatic experiences they have suffered is now part of common understandings of human nature. The ideas that reliving such traumatic events through intrusive memories can reproduce the terror associated with events and lead to social withdrawal and impairment, that repressing and re-remembering such memories is possible, and that working through these memories in some form of psychotherapy can lead to improvement are now deeply embedded in popular American understandings of trauma, illness, and recovery. It was therefore provocative when in 1995 Allan Young wrote in the introduction to his classic book The Harmony of Illusions: Inventing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: “The disorder is not timeless, nor does it possess an intrinsic unity. Rather, it is glued together by the practices, technologies, and narratives with which it is diagnosed, studied, treated, and represented and by the various interests, institutions, and moral arguments that mobilized the efforts and resources” (Young 1995:5).

Among anthropologists and cultural critics of mainstream psychiatry, Young’s position is now widely accepted. For many, it is linked to a broader critique of the universality of psychiatric diagnostic categories in general— and of the globalization of psychiatry. The more specific critique of PTSD and trauma treatment as the pathologization of normal forms of suffering—in settings of war and violence, for example—is for many particularly compelling. But while quoting Young on the “invention” of PTSD is common, it is less . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.