The production of chronicity in mental health care and research in Berlin


The focus of the project is on detailed ethnographic observation of medical classificatory practices in order to track their impact on the understanding of illness in medical institutions as well as on patients’ experiences of illness. The aim is to critically confront medical classifications afresh, through a close analysis of the everyday practices. The much contested classification ‘chronically mentally ill’ especially requires for various reasons such an ethnographic analysis: Despite being frequently used, this classification does not imply a unambiguously defined medical category of diagnosis, but is a blurry classification, one which achieves effect only in a network of clinical, scientific, social legislative, economic and political practices, as well as patients’ everyday lives. In this way, the vague classification of ‘chronically mentally ill’ is at certain times implicated in very concrete consequences, not in the least when it provides patients access to medical, socio-therapeutic and financial resources. More indirectly, as a label, it influences the fundamental understandings of illness of medical personnel, care-givers, patients and their families, and in this manner, in the long run has an impact on clinical pathways and on the assessment of therapeutic possibilities. The production of chronicity in psychiatry is hence understood as a process. Thus the stabilization of this classification in everyday practices within and outside of institutions will be especially illuminated. With a view to the practices, that is the manner in which people, knowledge and material objects are generated and brought into relation with each other, this project follows the practice-oriented approaches of the younger empiric-ethnographical works in science studies. The empirical work focuses on three aspects central to the research question: (A) medical healthcare system and research; (B) complementary healthcare institutions; (C) the private everyday lives of patients outside the institutions. In this manner the project also contributes to analyses of the interplay between science and lifeworlds while bringing a social anthropological perspective into psychiatric discourse.


Principal Investigators
Niewöhner, Jörg Prof. Dr. (Details) (European Ethnology of Urban Areas and Cultures)

Duration of Project
Start date: 06/2010
End date: 04/2016

Last updated on 2020-19-03 at 23:12