Saints, Scholars and Schizophrenics

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Saints, Scholars, and Schizophrenics: Mental Illness in Rural Ireland. Nancy Scheper-Hughes
28 November 2011
Anthropology 1103- 001

Scheper-Hughes, Nancy
1979 Saints, Scholars and Schizophrenics: University of California Press

“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 perspective, 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...
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