Accepted paper:

Shifting Agency: Key Interventions in the success of a Tongan Ethnopsychiatry

Authors:

Mike Poltorak (University of Kent)

Paper short abstract:

Critiques of the global expansion of psychiatry are informed by studies of curtailment of patient freedom typical in colonial contexts or totalitarian regimes and the depoliticisation through medicalisation of the wider social forces and inequalities embodied in the mentally ill. In this ethnographic biography of the indigenous Tongan Psychiatrist, Dr Mapa Puloka, I examine the key influences and negotiations during the decade that established the mandate for a Tongan psychiatry that faced little resistance from the Tongan population and successfully increased patient admissions

Paper long abstract:

Critiques of the global expansion of psychiatry are informed by studies of curtailment of patient freedom typical in colonial contexts or totalitarian regimes and the depoliticisation through medicalisation of the wider social forces and inequalities embodied in the mentally ill. In this ethnographic biography of the indigenous Tongan Psychiatrist, Dr Mapa Puloka, I examine the key influences and negotiations during the decade that established the mandate for a Tongan psychiatry that faced little resistance from the Tongan population and successfully increased patient admissions. This article offers a rare case study of a successful collaboration with traditional healers and a historical and epistemological contextualisation of his attempt to shift the locus of causality for mental illness from exteriorized 'evil spirits' to interiorized notions of brain disease through hybrid translations of psychiatric terms and diagnoses, key media and grassroots interventions, and regional collaborations. His success suggests a valuable point of confluence between histories of medicine, cross-cultural and transcultural psychiatry and medical anthropology of critical interest to a growing global mental health movement. In the non-colonial context of the constitutional monarchy of Tonga, the political inferences and implications of Psychiatric knowledge reflected and supported the changes in identity that underscored the movement towards greater democracy

panel LD36
Ethnographic perspectives on 'global mental health'