Neurasthenia Revisited: Psychologising precarious labor and migrant status in contemporary discourses of Asian American nervousness

TAM, Louise

Publication Date 

2014
25 pp

Neurasthenia—a term first coined by American neurologist George M. Beard in the 1860s—was a ‘malady of civilization’ associated with cerebral overpressure from the stresses of modern industrial life (Rabinbach, 1992:154). Many scholars of neurasthenia assume this psychopathological ‘disease of the will’ was a white disease that disappeared from Western medical practice since the early twentieth century. However, in this paper, I argue that not only has neurasthenia traveled to non-Western contexts, but that its genealogy as a culture-bound syndrome continues to haunt the present in North American cross-cultural counselling. Through a textual analysis of multicultural psychology textbooks published over the last decade, I argue these ‘traits’ serve to sequester problems of oppression into the private, apolitical space of family and culture, renarrativizing experiences of racial profiling, classroom segregation, worker disablement, and poverty as culturally determined mental health problems.

 

Disability and the Global South, 2014, Vol. 1 No. 2

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