Psychiatric diagnosis and racial bias : empirical and interpretative approaches

Roland Littlewood Centre for Medical Anthropology, Department of Anthropology, University College London in Soc. Sci. Med. Vol 34 n°2, pages 141-149, 1992

Understanding of psychiatric illness among Britain’s Black and ethnic minority population has shifted from an emphasis on cultural difference to one on racism within psychiatric theory and practice. In spite of this apparent turn, the explanations put forward remain within an empirical framework of methodological individualism, reflecting the blackground and training of British psychiatrists themselves. How racism may be actually demonstrated in individual clinical practice remains elusive. The standard hypotheses are examined here through a conventionnal clinical vignette study :this suggests medical education does not in itself now involve any specific racist psychiatric assumptions. Fuller understanding of the exercise of social power within this particular domain requires not only more complex interactive studies, preferably derived from a variety of clinical and social contexts, but a more developed interpretation of psychiatric practice and ideology within the social system.

Key words : diagnosis, racism, pschiatry

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