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Position Pieces

Vol. 10 No. 1: April issue

The Stories We Tell or Omit​: How Ethnographic (In)Attention can Obscure Structural Racism in the Anthropology of Mental Healthcare

February 23, 2022


Anthropologists studying mental healthcare tend to do so through observational and analytic attention to how individuals experience specific clinical and cultural contexts. While narrating lived experience may serve to humanise conditions like mental illness, those of us observing from a White, colonist-descended position can overlook the structural and racialised forces that determine entrance into particular treatment spaces. In doing so, we inadvertently obscure structural racism. This Position Piece critiques my approach as a student-in-training in anthropology, who conducted an ethnography of outpatient, government-funded clozapine clinics in the United Kingdom and Australia. In documenting how these clinics unexpectedly became a central source of moral agency for its clients, I stopped short of examining the demographic dynamics that helped to cultivate moral agency. Focused on other questions of health disparity, I missed the role of race and racism in treatment access pathways, trustworthiness, and experiences of moral agency. Engaging now with disciplinary legacies that shaped my inattention, I reflect on my silencing of racism at an interpersonal, institutional and structural level in my early analysis. I encourage similarly positioned anthropologists studying psychiatric treatment spaces and moral experience to confront how racism can be filtered through the stories we tell.