Review of Mind, Modernity, Madness in Contemporary Sociology

By Richard Lloyd, Vanderbilt University

Early in Mind, Modernity, Madness, Liah Greenfeld describes struggling to convey to undergraduate students at Boston University a sense of the near-constant physical pain endured by the medieval peasantry. In those dark ages, rotting teeth became abscessed, wounds festered, and amputations were routine, absent the salve of modern pain- killers. The students cannot comprehend this; from their privileged perch, it is unfathomably remote. Seizing on a different tack, Greenfeld asks if they or someone close to them had ever been treated for major depression. ‘‘Their bright faces darkened, eyes turned thoughtful and sad, and each one of them raised a hand. After that they found it easy to imagine having a toothache for days’’ (p. 10).

Greenfeld’s biography is unusually cosmopolitan. Her first eighteen years were spent in the USSR, the next ten in Israel, and her impressive academic resume´ includes numerous visiting stints abroad, but nowhere else has she witnessed such widespread psychological malaise, an impression borne out by an exhaustive catalogue of available statistical research. Her students are young and physically healthy, hailing from financially comfortable families, and now in the early stages of lives filled with promise. Freed of once ubiquitous physical pain, what so tortures their minds? Greenfeld easily pokes holes in the geneticist explanations that today dominate this conversation, despite their glaring inadequacies. Taking the contemporary big three of the DSM—schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression—to stand for modern madness, she argues that they appeared only recently, first documented by other names in sixteenth century England. The young United States, that most modern of nations, today has by far the highest rates—‘‘madder than them all’’ she argues in the penultimate chapter. Not only are cross-national rates highly variable, but affliction is also unevenly distributed within stratified national societies. Moreover, despite the insistence by psychiatric professionals that evidence of a genetic foundation for these severe mental illnesses is just around the corner, to date no such evidence has been persuasively presented. Greenfeld counters that culture, not genetics or chemical imbalance, is the source of modern madness.

Her case is made through an exhaustive and erudite historical examination of madness, and through her logical exegesis on the nature of the mind, mining venerable philosophical and sociological traditions from Descartes to Durkheim. The brain— which can be dissected, scanned, imaged, and chemically influenced—is appealing to scientists, who fuse the categories of material and empirical reality and dismiss culture as ineffable. But the brain, Greenfeld argues, is not the mind. It is a necessary condition for the mind, and the primary site where culture registers its effects on the individual body. Still, other animals also have brains, some quite well-developed. It is the mind that makes us human, and this is only an incipient capacity of our organism, wholly unrealized at birth and imprinted through socialization. Indeed, Greenfeld suggests that the larynx is the unique biological foundation of the mind, allowing at some primordial point for the elaboration of language as the primary conduit of abstract, symbolic communication. This capacity then creates the context for elaborate cooperative action. This, one must concede, is what accounts for the remarkable capacity of humans to adapt to environments all over the earth, given our comparatively unimpressive strength, speed, and bodily resilience.

Language and other human symbols, moreover, are not just the way that we talk to one another; they are, for the socialized brain (that is, the mind) the means through which we apprehend the world. Greenfeld notes wryly that in neglecting the mind, science brackets the condition of its own existence. Moreover, the symbol-systems that complete the mind ‘‘have not been created by the particular mind that happens to experience them at a given moment’’ (p. 64). The mind is thus the product of the uneven encounter between individual brains and the vast storehouse of human symbolic knowledge, also known as culture. This is an empirical fact, one which Greenfeld argues any human may readily ascertain via rudimentary self-examination. Echoing Durkheim, she identifies the collective mind as the condition of possibility for the creation of the individual mind. She further takes from Durkheim her central explanatory principle in tackling the modern problem of madness: anomie, or the breakdown of social regulation fixing one’s place in the world and guiding individual conduct.

Consider a Twilight Zone episode in which a petty criminal dies and imagines that against all odds he has been admitted to heaven. In this seemingly happy place he launches familiar pursuits, only now with unfailing success. He cannot lose at cards or strike out with women. Money is abundant, and he takes what he wants without repercussion. But the criminal is not happy after all; his victories, once assured, become empty. Where everything is possible, nothing is meaningful! He grows increasingly hysterical with each straight flush and willing dame, visibly cracking up. At last he rejects ‘‘heaven,’’ pleading to be delivered to ‘‘the other place.’’ At which point he is informed… well, you know.

No one, of course, gets it quite as good, which is to say as bad, as this. Nonetheless, at some point, in some places (for as Greenfeld notes, historical comparisons are also geographic comparisons) the feeling of possibility in human life becomes dramatically enhanced. Humans long lived in a world ordered irrevocably by invisible forces, but some now encounter a world of choices perceived to be governed by will. Certainly my students believe themselves inhabitants of such a world. This historically original capacity to imagine the self as self-made is a central feature of modernity. Attendant to it is the novel concept of freedom, a modern principle that the Enlightenment thinkers retroactively posited as universal and primordial, originating in fanciful states of nature. Greenfeld, like Durkheim, has none of this. The modern individual, so distinct from what humans were or could be in the past, is a cultural artifact, and an effect of structural change.

Freedom is the great gift of modernity, cherished by Greenfeld with a special ferocity given her childhood in a totalitarian regime. But it is driving us crazy. This is not a new idea. Kant viewed freedom as the release from the paralyzing grip of dogmatic thought, particularly of the religious variety. Simmel argues that it is nowhere more realized than in the relatively unbounded space of the modern metropolis, the natural habitat of liberal individualism. But as Durkheim shows, the failure of dogma and the advance of reason are accompanied by higher rates of suicide, most robust in the metropolis and in secular societies. Simmel adds that ‘‘it is obviously only the obverse of this freedom that one never feels as lonely and as deserted [emphasis added] as in this metropolitan crush of persons’’ (Simmel 1903).

Now consider our poor, depressed students. An artifact of modernity, the university is, one cannot doubt, secular, with the certainty of religious dogma nowhere more thoroughly undermined than in the religious studies programs. It is a liberal space, governed by the principle of self-(re)invention; common cores are on the run, and self- designed or double and triple majors are on the rise. Choices proliferate and students are loathe to commit. They no longer ‘‘go steady’’ but instead ‘‘hook-up,’’ in a peripatetic sampling of the extravagant mating menu; after graduating they will marry later and have fewer children, changing jobs and even careers many times—an unfathomable condition for those medieval souls who were born peasants and would of a certainty die that way, too.

The students have been assured repeatedly that they are persons of promise, on the doorstep of great, exhilarating possibility. But what outcome can possibly be adequate in the face of the promise they know to be theirs? ‘‘Leader of the free world’’ was not enough to ease Nixon’s neurosis, or sate Clinton’s appetites, and most of us promising sorts have to make due with much less validation. Greenfeld believes that in fact a great many of our political and thought leaders are certifiably mad, a premise not entirely lacking in plausibility. She further notes that John Nash, he of a beautiful mind, was finally cured of his schizophrenia only by admission to a suitably exclusive club, the Nobel Prize in Economics, when in his sixties.

Anomie signals a breakdown of culture’s regulatory capacity. This should not be confused with a diminishment in culture’s social centrality. The mental afflictions that Greenfeld charts result not from too little culture, but from too much, as pluralism replaces once rigid forms of mechanical solidarity. Schizophrenia, or ‘‘pure madness,’’ emerges when the endless possibilities of symbol systems dissolve into incoherence, unanchored by conventional rules and referents. The schizophrenic is highly verbal, the rush of words constructing an arbitrary reality. Bipolar disorder alternates between a fevered mania barely distinguishable from schizophrenia and that most common of modern maladies, major depression, in which the surplus of modern meaning becomes akin to the drab pallet of utter meaninglessness.

Still, Greenfeld does not align with Michel Foucault, who similarly observes that madness appears in discourse only with the onset of modernity. In contrast to Foucault, Greenfeld claims that the discourse of madness follows rather than leads its actual experience. Thus madness is not a mere dis- cursive construct but a real and tortuous malady, and if there was no name for it before the sixteenth century, this is because it did not before exist.

Still, as an affliction of the mind, madness originates in culture, though borne by individual persons. The question is, what change so disrupted the culture? Here she asks the question that drove the canonical triumvirate of classical sociology: What is it that makes modernity so modern, driving

all of its other diverse effects? For Durkheim it is the division of labor; for Marx, capitalism; and for Weber, instrumental rationality. Anyone familiar with Greenfeld’s previous works will not be surprised to hear of her own nominee. She positions Mind, Modernity, Madness as the last book in a trilogy on nationalism, joining Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity (1992) and The Spirit of Capitalism: Nationalism and Economic Growth (2001). The nation is of course widely recognized as belonging in any thorough catalogue of modern phenomena; Greenfeld’s originality is in making it the lead horse. In her usage, nationalism is not centrally defined by belligerent xenophobia or bellicose imperialism, as one might ordinarily expect. Nationalism is rather the comprehensive world-view implied by a thoroughly novel mode of social organization. The nation is comprised of citizens instead of subjects, and orders a new world of role differentiation, social mobility, and imagined community to which older, religiously-based understandings are no longer adequate. It transforms the experience of the world from one ordered by an omnipotent deity to one shaped by ambition and will. With this comes the modern ideal of liberty, premised on the twin constructs of freedom and individuality.

How did this come about? Greenfeld asserts that England emerged from the ashes of the War of the Roses as the first nation in the world. In this epic exercise in brutality, the hereditary aristocracy self-immolated before the Lancasters at last won their pyrrhic victory. The obscure Henry Tudor ascended to the throne, but absent an effective court to enforce his jurisdiction had no choice but to ‘‘turn to the commoners for support’’ (p. 48). Thus an unprecedented degree of upward mobility took shape on the Isles, one that profoundly contradicted ‘‘prevailing beliefs and the image of reality associated with them’’ (ibid.). The self-esteem of the commoners enhanced, the seeds of democracy were planted. Moreover, the divine provenance that had previously underpinned system legitimacy was irrevocably diminished by this social reordering, setting the stage for secularism and the first organized scientific establishment. Increasingly, the nation and not God became the means of grasping one’s place in the world.

From the national arrangement came Locke’s Second Treatise on Government, ambition, progress, romantic love, natural (as opposed to divine) selection—and madness. Shakespeare, the best mind of the world’s first nation, brought madness into literature, and Greenfeld affords his insights as much or more status than those of any clinician. Lear was a paranoid schizophrenic; Hamlet a depressive one, guided by an apparition. From England the nationalist world-view diffused, ferrying its signature mental pathologies. Greenfeld duly chronicles new outbreaks in France, Germany and Russia, timed and shaped distinctly by these countries’ unique paths to nationalism. The United States, uniquely unburdened by the remnants of aristocratic hierarchies, was nationalist even before becoming a nation, madness infecting the colonies and multiplying through the national host. It exemplifies the ideology of the modern individual most thoroughly to this day, and America’s individual minds pay the steepest price as a result.

C. Wright Mills famously defined sociology as the intersection of history and biography, and one would be hard-pressed to find a sociologist working today who exemplifies this principle as rigorously as Greenfeld. Indeed, much of Mind, Modernity, Madness (something of a doorstop at 628 pages) is filled out by biographical sketches of the afflicted, both famous and obscure, creatively read against the backdrop of the structural and cultural currents within which those lives unfolded. Greenfeld’s own biography clearly informs her original and imaginative reading of the monumental archive she samples, a fact that she does not attempt to submerge as she builds her case. She inhabits the book, a lively companion to the reader during the long but only occasionally tedious journey through reams of documentary evidence. Greenfeld has a dog who she loves and who loves her; she worries for her students; she writes poetry and adores literature; she feels acutely the still viral strains of anti-Semitism; and she bears a personal grudge against Karl Marx. She counts among her ancestors original Bolsheviks, but her family suffered greatly in the Soviet regime before finally escaping to Israel. Greenfeld duly sees utopian revolutionary impulses, like cult religions, as variants of schizophrenia, motivated not by one’s real position in the world but by delusions of grandeur. Indeed, she suggestively posits that The Communist Manifesto was penned by a madman.

Greenfeld’s work demands attention, issuing a pointed challenge to the psychiatric profession and to our own discipline. She argues that both psychiatry and sociology are today restricted by an impoverished view of science, unjustifiably neglecting the empirical reality of the mind. Exemplifying Weber’s verstehen, Greenfeld traffics in bold interpretations, and addresses without apology literary and philosophical texts now ordinarily ceded to the humanities. She brings to the task considerable rhetorical gifts, her immersion in modern literary traditions undoubtedly contributing to the rare vigor and grace of her writing.

Mind, Modernity, Madness is not without problems. For all her eloquence, she leaves the reader feeling bludgeoned rather than edified in the late going, piling on with yet another excessively detailed case history or literary exegesis. Abruptly she announces that her case is airtight and, perhaps by now also exhausted, barely bothers with a summary conclusion. But I am not so sure. Give a boy a hammer and everything looks like a nail; nationalism is Greenfeld’s hammer. In this she is no less a determinist than the despised Marx; nationalism explains everything, in the last instance, from capitalist competition to morose college students. Nonetheless, whether one finally concedes the central premise, this is a provocative and important work of humanist sociology, infused with a passion for ideas and grand argument.

Contemporary Sociology: A Journal of Reviews, 2014, 43: 633

Review of Mind, Modernity, Madness in American Journal of Sociology

By Karen A. Cerulo, Rutgers University

Mind, Modernity, and Madness is the final installment in a trilogy of books penned by sociologist Liah Greenfeld. The projects were conceived as vehicles to help us better understand the political, economic, and psychological aspects of modern culture. Like her earlier books, Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity (Harvard University Press, 1992) and The Spirit of Capitalism: Nationalism and Economic Growth (Harvard University Press, 2001), this is a substantial piece of writing, impeccably researched, ambitious in its execution, provocative and fresh in its approach.

Nearly all of Greenfeld’s works emanate from an interest in the culture of nationalism. In Mind, Modernity, and Madness, she links those concerns to the emergence of psychiatric disorders, particularly schizophrenia, manic depression, and bipolar disease. Unlike other recent books that suggest we must choose between biological and cultural etiologies of mental illness, Greenfeld argues that the two are intricately entwined and situated in the creation of nations. “It is obvious that the dramatic transformation in the image of reality,” she writes, stems from a consciousness imposed by nationalism,s three core characteristics: popular sovereignty, equality, and secularism; these elements “significantly affect the nature of the existential experience—the very way life is felt” (p. 3). And here lies the crux of Greenfeld’s thesis. From the days of its origins, nationalism has remade the notion of individual identity, putting the individual in the proverbial driver,s seat. In the world of nationalism, individuals are the ultimate decision makers, the architects of their destiny. This way of “feeling life” is, at once, empowering and overwhelming. Thus as biological predispositions to mental disease meet the pressure of self-authorship, the perfect storm ensues. In a very real and documentable way, the culture of nationalism drives some to the throes of madness.

Greenfeld builds her argument on a theoretical foundation that challenges long-standing conceptions of mind. She suggests that we replace dominant dualistic approaches in this realm—those that partition the material and the spiritual—and instead treat reality as a tripartite structure “consisting of three autonomous but related layers, with the two upper ones being emergent phenomena—the layer of matter, the layer of life, and the layer of the mind” (p. 58). As her argument unfolds, she focuses more specifically on the qualities of mind, identifying the biological elements from which mind grows and by which its development is constrained. She also explores the ways in which symbolic culture transforms and expands the biological mind, making it a far more complex and dynamic entity that reforms and reconfigures itself, ever emerging in relation to changing environmental events.

The most impressive contribution of the book comes in its historical chapters. Here, Greenfeld uses an extensive array of data to convincingly illustrate the nationalistically based roots of madness. With Greenfeld, we approach the historical starting line of 16th-century England; we sprint across nations and through time, over a terrain of literature and history, and into the minds of philosophers and psychiatrists. All roads lead to one empirically based conclusion. Greenfeld’s examples and explanations illustrate the ways in which both an opened social structure and the anomie born of multiple, often contradictory, cultural messages, make the formation of self-identity—the very thing that nationalism expects its inhabitants to produce—difficult for many and debilitating for some. Identity issues, argues Greenfeld, lead to collective malaise (at best), and for those who fail the challenges of identity formation, mental impairment, dysfunction, and derangement. In some ways, the book is not simply about madness, but about the costs and sufferings of the modern world. Moreover, it is a book about the future of nations. For in her provocative conclusion, Greenfeld asks us to reflect on the ways in which a madness born of nationalism becomes a mobilizing force, creating a politics of sheer ideology and shaping a destructive form of political action that is more therapeutic than productive.

If I were to identify any weakness in the book, it might be the author’s base for a cultural study of the mind. Greenfeld seems to ignore a strong sociological tradition in this arena, including both classic and contemporary works done by symbolic interactionists, social constructionists, sociologists of knowledge, ethnomethodologists, and sociolinguists. Weaving such works together with those of biologists, cognitive scientists, and philosophers would only have strengthened the foundation of the authors, arguments.

Still this fault is small in a book that is otherwise a tour de force. Indeed, this book will make a new and interesting contribution to the study of mental illness, the sociology of science and knowledge, and political and cultural sociology. It also presents a host of testable propositions that should be enthusiastically pursued by sociologists of culture and politics. Finally, the book provides stimulating material for graduate classes that address cultural or historical analysis. Indeed, Mind, Modernity, and Madness is the kind of book that remaps intellectual terrain, prodding us to rethink our conclusions and refocus our sights.

American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 119, No. 5 (March 2014), pp. 1527-1528


Review of Mind, Modernity, Madness in Barron’s

Stormy Minds
Why madness is rampant

Reviewed by Michael Strong

Is mental illness caused by the freedom bestowed on us by modernity? Liah Greenfeld, a social-science professor at Boston University, argues in this scholarly study that in the modern world, the expectation that each of us be the author of our own destiny has indeed resulted in a historically unprecedented epidemic of mental illness.

Traditional cultures, by contrast, defined our personal roles in life by the family and socioeconomic group into which we were born. In religious cultures, there was a socially sanctioned transcendent realm beyond our ken, and our lives were largely subject to the rules of that realm as defined by its earthly interpreters. But modernity brought a new kind of culture in which individual effort based on one’s personal identity became the cultural norm. According to Greenfeld, modern “mental illness” arose for the first time, as well.

The author is careful to differentiate some kinds of madness that have always been with us, such as the dementia of the elderly, from the “big three”: major depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. It is these forms of madness that she regards as the collateral damage of our new-found opportunity to be autonomous beings.
Greenfeld takes issue with the current view that mental illness will be treatable as soon as we find the biological cause that will then be corrected by the right drugs. While she acknowledges that there are biological and genetic factors that predispose us to madness, she rejects them as causal factors. Medications currently used to “treat” emotional disorders may ameliorate the symptoms, but they do not address the causes, as Sigmund Freud famously insisted.

She then makes a compelling case that how we construct meaning and identity in our lives is a significant causal factor in madness. Insofar as mental diseases like schizophrenia are caused by the struggle with self-definition in open modern societies, drugs will never be a wholly adequate approach.

Three cases of mental illness are analyzed in fascinating detail: James Matthews, subject of the first clinical record of schizophrenic delusion, published in 1810; Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Nash, subject of the book and film A Beautiful Mind; and Kay Jamison, an eminent psychiatrist and author of the autobiographical memoir An Unquiet Mind. Greenfeld applies her analysis of identify formation to each of their clinical histories, showing how specific life events would naturally result in mental disorders that each of them experienced.

There is no returning to an unfree world, even if that were desirable. But if the thesis of Mind, Modernity, Madness is valid, we ought to focus on the impact of identity-formation on mental illness as much as we focus on pharmaceutical remedies.


Review of Mind, Modernity, Madness in The American Journal of Psychiatry

Is our culture, with one-fourth of adults mentally ill, devastating itself ? Greenfeld contends that it is.

The suicidal course of our species began when the emerging human larynx and brain facilitated speech 20,000 to 30,000 years ago. This transformation enabled a radical progression from articulating signs (an animal capacity) to articulating symbols. Unlike signs, symbols represented phenomena of which they were not part. Symbolic thinking begat the mind, com-posed of the brain plus ideas gleaned from culturally created environments. Minds became “individualized culture.”

Symbolic thought has yielded both boon and burden for the human species and its emerging mind. Logic and observation, the origins of science, comprise thought forms permitting contradiction. Much symbolic thinking consists of abstractions not liable to contradiction (e.g., shared religious and political beliefs, cultural norms and values) or liable to contradiction only if reduced to stark numbers. Symbolic thoughts, coalesced into systems, show varying consistency and thus are not wholly logical, coherent, or liable to contradiction. For better and worse, symbolic thinking can change suddenly, produce indecision arising from its own incongruities, and even veer from reality. Within the mind’s capacity for symbolism exist the seeds for disabling “madness” or “insanity.”

Next, Greenfeld cogently deconstructs notions of schizophrenia (“pure madness”) and manic depression (“muddled madness”). These key sections elucidate core material for the ensuing sections. They encompass psychiatric history, theory, epidemiology, descriptive psychopathology, and ethnopsychiatry, as well as germane aspects of history, economics, politics, and even theater.

For the remaining half of the book, Greenfeld expounds her thesis. Prior to the Renaissance, religious beliefs were widely shared, and sociopolitical organization was hierarchical. Status was ascribed rather than achieved. And insanity prevalence was low, albeit with special vulnerability among learned, politically elite, and artistic people. Beginning during the 17th and 18th centuries in England, insanity proliferated geometrically from prevalence rates of one in thousands to one in hundreds. In parallel, a modern statehood model (termed “nationalism”) appeared, marked by secularism, growing egalitarianism, social mobility from parent to offspring, rising literacy, novel occupations, university learning, passion, and romance. The first western mental institution appeared (Bedlam in London), followed by the steady evolution of psychiatry within medicine and insanity law within jurisprudence. From England, the insanity epidemic (along with its companion, suicide) spread across Europe and North America within a few centuries.

Numerous studies have shown insanity prevalence rates still growing steadily in the United States. For example, in 1987 one person in 184 received Social Security Disability for a psychiatric disorder; this number increased by 2.5 times to 1 person in 76 by 2007. National Institute of Mental Health-supported national surveys have shown current and life-time prevalence increases in recent decades, with increasing comorbid conditions. These figures proffer prime evidence for cultural causes of insanity and against narrow biogenetic causation generating steady rates over time. Biological processes fabricate insanity, but mind-borne culture precipitates these biological processes. Although hereditary factors affect vulnerability to insanity, extreme culture-bred pathogens can overcome hereditary hardiness and produce insanity. Like-wise, cultural compensations can counteract high hereditary vulnerability and prevent insanity.

Finally, psychiatrist-like, Greenfeld makes a diagnosis and prescribes an intervention for often-addled modern minds. She ascribes our insanity pandemic to “unstable identities” (Durkheim’s “anomie”) ensuing from minds weakened, immobilized, disabled, and ultimately deranged by the complexities of modern “nationalism.” For this malady, she prescribes educational interventions aimed at aiding students to cope with pathogens inherent within their challenging cultures and reflected in their emerging minds.

Greenfeld’s magnificent sweep of several fields leaves her discourse open to quibbles. Her education-based intervention would require clinical trials. Cultural interventions already known and practiced among community psychiatrists might reduce insanity, but they would also warrant research, greater efficiency, and wider implementation (e.g., employ-ment initiatives for all [1], producing self-aware citizens with greater stress resilience [2]). Cultural psychiatrists could elab-orate her “anomie,” which arises from depleted “intimate social networks” (3), pathogenic migrations (4), and discrep-ancies in actual versus ideal norms that wrench minds loose from their problem-solving proclivities (5). Further, substance disorders—which Greenfeld notes, but briefly—have accom-panied and increased insanity. Alcohol and opium epidemics also appeared in the 1600s and 1700s (6) and endure endlessly anew, as exemplified in our raging iatrogenic opioid epidemic. Regardless, these points support rather than dislodge Green-feld’s case. Most telling, her strong contentions overwhelm the brittle claims of biological determinism and alert culture brokers to their urgent tasks.

Those apt to gain most from Greenfeld’s remarkable tome are biological psychiatrists, legislators, and community leaders. Physicians, behavioral scientists, futurists, parents, and academicians will find the read exhilarating and useful. Cultural psychiatrists, ethnopsychiatric investigators, and psychiatric epidemiologists—those least apt to realize totally new understandings—will still find their comprehensions expanded in unanticipated ways.


1. Linn MW, Sandifer R, Stein S: Effects of unemployment on mental and physical health. Am J Public Health 1985; 75:502–506

2. Galambos NL, Barker ET, Almeida DM: Parents do matter: tra-jectories of change in externalizing and internalizing problems in early adolescence. Child Dev 2003; 74:578–594

3. Westermeyer J, Pattison EM: Social networks and mental illness in a peasant society. Schizophr Bull 1981; 7:125–134

4. Takeuchi DT, Zane N, Hong S, Chae DH, Gong F, Gee GC, Walton E, Sue S, Alegría M: Immigration-related factors and mental disor-ders among Asian Americans. Am J Public Health 2007; 97:84–90

5. Slonim-Nevo V, Sharaga Y, Mirsky J, Petrovsky V, Borodenko M: Ethnicity versus migration: two hypotheses about the psychoso-cial adjustment of immigrant adolescents. Int J Soc Psychiatry 2006; 52:41–53

6. Westermeyer J: The pursuit of intoxication: our 100 century-old romance with psychoactive substances. Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse 1988; 14:175–187


Dr. Westermeyer is Staff Psychiatrist at the Minneapolis VA Health Care Center and Professor of Psychiatry and Adjunct Professor of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

Review on the American Journal of Psychiatry Website

Socratic Conversation: The Changing Face of Time

Tuesday November 19, 5pm to 7pm

Boston University’s School of Theology Building, room 625

Socratic Conversations bring together scholars and researchers from diverse fields in the Boston academic community to discuss topics of common interest whose scope necessarily crosses traditional disciplinary boundaries.

On Tuesday, November 19, Boston University PhD Candidate, Mark Simes, will present selections of his dissertation research, “Tempora Mutantur: An examination of time in physics, biology and human mental experience”.  

As an advanced PhD candidate in Boston University’s University Professors Program, Mark Simes has been designing a unique and multifaceted research program at the nexus of social neuroscience, history and philosophy of science and social theory/cultural anthropology.  

The work that will be presented is a transdisciplinary analysis of time – both the concept in physics, biology and philosophy and the phenomenon in life and culture – with the ultimate goal of deepening our understanding of the empirical manifestation of time in human mental processes.

A Little Love Affair

By Liah Greenfeld

My mother just turned 85. Her mind is sharp and her will is strong, but she is ill and tired of life, and has been dying, I feel, since my father’s death almost eleven years ago. She has breast cancer, which she does not want to treat, and barely walks. She was a doctor. Therefore, she does not see doctors. But she still lives in the large apartment she shared with my father and their last cat and insists on taking care of all her daily needs. Since the cat died – at the age of eighteen – three years ago, she lives completely alone.

For many years, from long before she retired at 73, a part of her routine has been feeding alley cats in her neighborhood. She lives in Israel where though one very rarely sees homeless dogs, homeless cats proliferate, eking their meager existence on the streets. Those who survive their first year around garbage containers of apartment houses, which are their natural food source, usually live for another two or three years, and, among them, my mother’s cats are an exception – some of them have reached the age of ten and even more. But kittens are very vulnerable, most of them die before they ever venture with their mothers on their scavenging expeditions – even cats my mother feeds at best succeed in raising one kitten out of every litter.

Continue reading

The Maddening of America

The relative global decline of the United States has become a frequent topic of debate in recent years. Proponents of the post-American view point to the 2008 financial crisis, the prolonged recession that followed, and China’s steady rise. Most are international-relations experts who, viewing geopolitics through the lens of economic competitiveness, imagine the global order as a seesaw, in which one player’s rise necessarily implies another’s fall.

But the exclusive focus on economic indicators has prevented consideration of the geopolitical implications of a US domestic trend that is also frequently discussed, but by a separate group of experts: America’s ever-increasing rates of severe mental disease (which have already been very high for a long time).

The claim that the spread of severe mental illness has reached “epidemic” proportions has been heard so often that, like any commonplace, it has lost its ability to shock. But the repercussions for international politics of the disabling conditions diagnosed as manic-depressive illnesses (including major unipolar depression) and schizophrenia could not be more serious.–Liah Greenfeld