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Travelers in the Void between Cultures

The significance and work of cultural anthropology

with Drs. Mariska Stevens

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medicine and culture : dream interpretation : body images (click on themes for topic)

I began doing research in this field in 1982 and with a focus on various aspects  from medical sociology. I highlighted the relationship between the practitioner and the patient (or client as I would prefer) and  the reception of non-western remedies in Western societies and the perception of what is considered mentally healthy, or mentally sick in Western cultures. Later I broadened this field including symbolism and the basics of all medical systems, body images and language classification and cultural varieties.

What is ethno-psychology?

Ethno-psychology deals with systems of health and illnesses and tries to understand them from within, not from a Western bio-medical approach, both from the merits of their cultural backgrounds. As such it also views the Western biomedical discourse as a cultural model. There is no reason to presume that any cultural model lacks the trial and error methods of Western science. The effects of the mode depends on higher variety aspects than objectivied methodology alone. To be clear, i am not specifically religious. I always express that the privilege of a cultural anthropologist is to simultaneous believe everything and nothing...

Ethno-psychology is a fairly new discipline in social sciences and initially developed as an attempt to find answers to perceptions of mental health in various non-Western cultural groups of migrants. In the course of the last 40 years, however, scientists realized that Non-Western cultures had a lot more to offer concerning healing and curing techniques then Western bio-medical approaches entailed. Under the heading of alternative medicine different cultural approaches gradually became acknowledged for their functionality and accumulated cultural value. Some cultural systems historically function as complete systems of health like Traditional Chinese Medicine regarding physicality, diagnose, herbal remedies, acupoint directed therapies. Other cultural systems focus on mostly mental health remedies and herbal cures for moderate illnesses. The value of all these systems come from approaches; most time overlooked in Western medicine and health practices. Understanding these alternatives is vital in cultural anthropology.

A dear friend interviewed me on this topic for the Boedistische Radio Omroep: listen to this interview here. Unfortunately it is in Dutch.

what is ethno psychology interview

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Medicine and culture 

In 2017 I organized a conference on Chinese Traditional Medicines in Den Haag. I began the initiative  because of an interesting new policy from the government of the Peoples Republic of China concerning stimulating the spread of Chinese Medicine in the coming 5 years, and the covenant which was signed in November 2016 between our Dutch secretary van Rijn and the Chinese government in Beijing on cooperation in the field of healthcare. However the program did  not yet have an agenda and in stimulating Chinese-Dutch cooperation I felt it important to enable interested parties to contribute to this possibility. During the day I asked the audience to give feed-back and ask any questions they might have. I am very indebted to Mr. Ronald Koster from the municipality of Den Haag, without whom this conference would not have been possible. The results of this conference, the download of papers and presentations can be found on the books and article page. Below the compilation of the conference

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Interpretation of dreams

If anything is different between cultures, the difference in the interpretation of symbols will explain how wide cultures are mentally separated from each other in the expression of symbolism. I have done extensive experiments with my students at the Center for International Studies at Donghua University in a program I designed called: ‘ The Business of Psychology’’. In this program, the student learns what a symbol is and how different symbols are being interpreted across cultures. I asked my student to select a symbol of their choosing and find out more about its history. The process shows the various levels of interpretation which happens during the historical development of a symbol.

My other project concerned translating the 100 poems of Guanyin (the female image of the Buddha in Asian cultures) from Chinese into Dutch. This project took my 4 years as I only had the written characters of the poems from booklets published by Chinese monasteries. The characters where both traditional and simplified and consisted of ancient concepts. To my surprise I found that many interpretations of the poems composed a institutional context rather than the emancipatory element of the Guanyin buddha. This book can be ordered at the American Book center (see that books and articles page).

Two interesting interview from my dear friend here, on the intepretation of dreams:Unfortunatly in Dutch

Interpretation of dreams

Interpretation of dreams 2

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Body images

What is a body image? In language theories many influences create the interpretation of words and these influences are potent, historical and dominant. Words refer to physical content, and these two elements cannot be separated. Within culture ideas about identities are closely connected to the language by which they are defined. These identities I call body images. They are not merely images of idealistic human beings, but they are much more refined and complex. They both limit and strengthen individuals in the composition of their identity, yet if body images are more dominant than personality dynamics, society will be an ultimate consumers paradise , a society of advertising.
Culture determines various aspects of body images. For instance color association schemes are in some ways opposite: white in the West means purity of the bride, in Chinese culture signifies death. As an another example: biomedical approaches of the body are easily adopted in China, yet Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is still rejected within the Western medical world. Depictions (visual) of the body in Chinese and the Western culture express different socio-cultural relations between the individual and his surroundings, concepts of nature and culture differ in form, function and perception.

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