Clinical ethnography

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Clinical ethnography is a term first used by Gilbert Herdt and Robert Stoller in a series of papers in the 1980s. [1] As Herdt defines it, clinical ethnography

Gilbert Herdt American anthropologist (born 1949)

Gilbert H. Herdt is Emeritus Professor of Human Sexuality Studies and Anthropology and a Founder of the Department of Sexuality Studies and National Sexuality Resource Center at San Francisco State University. He founded the Summer Institute on Sexuality and Society at the University of Amsterdam (1996). He founded the PhD Program in Human Sexuality at the California Institute for Integral Studies, San Francisco (2013). He conducted long term field work among the Sambia people of Papua New Guinea, and has written widely on the nature and variation in human sexual expression in Papua New Guinea, Melanesia, and across culture.

Robert Jesse Stoller, was an American Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA Medical School and a researcher at the UCLA Gender Identity Clinic. He was born in Crestwood, New York, and died in Los Angeles, California. He had psychoanalytic training at the Los Angeles Psychoanalytic Society and Institute from 1953 to 1961 with analysis by Hanna Fenichel.


is the intensive study of subjectivity in cultural context...clinical ethnography is focused on the microscopic understanding of sexual subjectivity and individual differences within cross-cultural communities. What distinguishes clinical ethnography from anthropological ethnography in general is (a) the application of disciplined clinical training to ethnographic problems and (b) developmental concern with desires and meanings as they are distributed culturally within groups and across the course of life. [2]

Clinical ethnography has strong similarities to person-centered ethnography, a term used by Robert I. Levy, a psychoanalytically trained psychiatrist, to describe his anthropological fieldwork in Tahiti and Nepal in the 1960s-1980s and used by many of his students and interlocutors. In practice the two approaches overlap but seem to differ in emphasis: clinical ethnography seems to be used more by anthropologists writing about sexuality or medical anthropology (particularly psychiatric anthropology, e.g. Luhrmann 2000, or anthropology of mental illness [3] ), while person-centered ethnography, though sometimes addressing these topics, more often focuses on the study of self and emotion cross-culturally. Person-centered anthropology also implies a style of ethnographic writing that emphasizes psychological case studies. [4]

Person-centered ethnography is an approach within psychological anthropology that draws on techniques and theories from psychiatry and psychoanalysis to understand how individuals relate to and interact with their sociocultural context. The term was first used by Robert I. Levy, a psychoanalytically trained psychiatrist, to describe his psychodynamically informed approach to interviewing during his anthropological fieldwork in Tahiti and Nepal.

Robert I. Levy was an American psychiatrist and anthropologist known for his fieldwork in Tahiti and Nepal and on the cross-cultural study of emotions. Though he did not receive a formal degree in anthropology, he spent most of his adult life conducting anthropological fieldwork or teaching in departments of anthropology. In developing his approach to anthropology, he credited his cousin, the anthropologist Roy Rappaport, and Gregory Bateson.

Tahiti Largest island of French Polynesia

Tahiti is the largest island of the Windward group of the Society Islands in French Polynesia, located in the central part of the Pacific Ocean. Divided into two parts, Tahiti Nui and Tahiti Iti, the island was formed from volcanic activity; it is high and mountainous with surrounding coral reefs. Its population is 189,517 inhabitants (2017), making it the most populous island of French Polynesia and accounting for 68.7% of its total population.

Both represent a continuation of an older tradition within psychological anthropology and Culture and Personality studies particularly. Scholars in this tradition have had their primary training in anthropology or psychiatry (or rarely both) and have conducted ethnographic fieldwork strongly informed by psychodynamic theories (though not necessarily orthodox Freudian theory), some degree of training in psychiatric or clinical psychological interviewing techniques, and attention to a set of issues including the role of culture in or the cross-cultural study of emotions, sexuality, identity, the experience of self, and mental health. Figures in this larger tradition include but are not limited to: Jean Briggs, George Devereux, Cora DuBois, A. Irving Hallowell, Abram Kardiner, Ralph Linton, Melford Spiro, and at least tangentially Gregory Bateson, Margaret Mead, and Marvin Opler.

Jean L. Briggs was an American-born anthropologist, ethnographer, linguist, and professor emerita at Memorial University of Newfoundland. Her best known works included the 1970 landmark book, Never in Anger: Portrait of an Eskimo Family, based on 18 months of research and field work in Inuit communities on the Arctic coast during the 1960s. Never in Anger: Portrait of an Eskimo Family, which documents Inuit language, culture and practices, remains a landmark publication in the fields of ethnography and Arctic studies to this day. In 2015, Briggs helped to complete and publish a dictionary of Utkuhiksalingmiut Inuktitut, also called Utkuhiksalik, which preserves 34,000 words and contributes to the preservation of the Utku language.

George Devereux ethnologist

Georges Devereux was a Hungarian-French ethnologist and psychoanalyst, often considered the founder of ethnopsychiatry.

Abram Kardiner was a psychiatrist and psychoanalytic therapist. An active publisher of academic research, he co-founded the Psychoanalytic and Psychosomatic Clinic for Training and Research in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University in New York City. Kardiner was deeply interested in cross-cultural diagnosis and the psychoanalytic study of culture. While teaching at Columbia, he developed a course on the application of psychoanalysis to the study of culture and worked closely with Anthropologists throughout his career.

Active research and training programs in clinical ethnography today include the Clinical Ethnography and Mental Health track in the Department of Comparative Human Development at the University of Chicago, and some of the qualitative researchers at the National Sexuality Resource Center, directed by Gilbert Herd at San Francisco State University. Aside from Herdt, scholars using the term include Andrew Boxer, Bertram J. Cohler, and Tanya Luhrmann, as well as many of their students.

University of Chicago Private research university in Chicago, Illinois, United States

The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois. Founded in 1890, the school is located on a 217-acre campus in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood, near Lake Michigan. The University of Chicago holds top-ten positions in various national and international rankings.

The National Sexuality Resource Center (NSRC) is a San Francisco-based organization which advocates the positive representation of human sexuality, creates educational content, and provides training about human sexuality. The center also counters what it views as negative representations of sexuality while fostering dialog of sexuality issues as a natural part of being human.

San Francisco State University university in San Francisco, California

San Francisco State University is a public university in San Francisco. As part of the 23-campus California State University system, the university offers 118 different bachelor's degrees, 94 master's degrees, and 5 doctoral degrees along with 26 teaching credentials among six academic colleges.

See also

Creative Participation is a term used in social sciences to describe the position of the observer towards the observed. Creative Participation - originally a Lucien Lévy-Bruhl term from the 1920s for analysing social relations of cultural groupings, modified and revived by the German ethnologist V. Dahlheimer- rewrites the traditional participant observation approach and leaves more room for non-materialistic cognition. Dynamic movements which can not be measured from disconnected or relative viewpoints can be captured by means of feelings. Verification of data through creative participation is possible through practical conception only and can at best be validated by empirical means. Creative Participation seeks to counteract classical problems in social science like i.e. rigid defense of theory, personal ambition, and weight of tradition which can lead to social and personal fragmentation.

Educational psychology is the branch of psychology concerned with the scientific study of human learning. The study of learning processes, from both cognitive and behavioral perspectives, allows researchers to understand individual differences in intelligence, cognitive development, affect, motivation, self-regulation, and self-concept, as well as their role in learning. The field of educational psychology relies heavily on quantitative methods, including testing and measurement, to enhance educational activities related to instructional design, classroom management, and assessment, which serve to facilitate learning processes in various educational settings across the lifespan.

Naturalistic observation observation of a subject in its natural habitat without any manipulation by the observer

Naturalistic observation is, in contrast to analog observation, a research tool in which a subject is observed in its natural habitat without any manipulation by the observer. During naturalistic observation, researchers take great care to avoid interfering with the behavior they are observing by using unobtrusive methods. Naturalistic observation involves two main differences that set it apart from other forms of data gathering. In the context of a naturalistic observation, the environment is in no way being manipulated by the observer nor was it created by the observer.

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Medical anthropology studies "human health and disease, health care systems, and biocultural adaptation". It views humans from multidimensional and ecological perspectives. It is one of the most highly developed areas of anthropology and applied anthropology, and is a subfield of social and cultural anthropology that examines the ways in which culture and society are organized around or influenced by issues of health, health care and related issues.

Participant observation by scholar practitioners is one type of data collection method typically used in qualitative research and ethnography. It is a widely used methodology in many disciplines, particularly cultural anthropology, European ethnology, sociology, communication studies, human geography and social psychology. Its aim is to gain a close and intimate familiarity with a given group of individuals and their practices through an intensive involvement with people in their cultural environment, usually over an extended period of time.

In the social science fields of anthropology, sociology, history, religious studies, human-centered design and organizational development, a thick description results from a scientific observation of any particular human behavior that describes not just the behavior, but its context as well, so that the behavior can be better understood by an outsider. A thick description typically adds a record of subjective explanations and meanings provided by the people engaged in the behaviors, making the collected data of greater value for studies by other social scientists.

Nightwork: Sexuality, Pleasure, and Corporate Masculinity in a Tokyo Hostess Club (1994) is a book-length study in the field of cultural anthropology of contemporary Japan by Anne Allison. This participant-observation ethnography describes the culture surrounding Japanese hostess clubs, which feature female servers specifically intended to flirt with or present a sexually attractive image to their typically white-collar sarariiman (salaryman) clients. Allison's work presents a perspective on corporate life and gender roles in Japan infrequently considered in academia and in Western culture.

Field research Collection of information outside a laboratory, library or workplace setting

Field research, field studies, or fieldwork is the collection of raw data outside a laboratory, library, or workplace setting. The approaches and methods used in field research vary across disciplines. For example, biologists who conduct field research may simply observe animals interacting with their environments, whereas social scientists conducting field research may interview or observe people in their natural environments to learn their languages, folklore, and social structures.

Psychological anthropology is an interdisciplinary subfield of anthropology that studies the interaction of cultural and mental processes. This subfield tends to focus on ways in which humans' development and enculturation within a particular cultural group—with its own history, language, practices, and conceptual categories—shape processes of human cognition, emotion, perception, motivation, and mental health. It also examines how the understanding of cognition, emotion, motivation, and similar psychological processes inform or constrain our models of cultural and social processes. Each school within psychological anthropology has its own approach.

Tanya Marie Luhrmann, often cited as T.M. Luhrmann, is an American psychological anthropologist known for her studies of modern-day witches, charismatic Christians, and studies of how culture shapes psychotic, dissociative, and related experiences. She has also studied culture and morality, and the training of psychiatrists. She is Watkins University Professor in the Anthropology Department at Stanford University.

Richard Allan Shweder is an American cultural anthropologist and a figure in cultural psychology. He is currently Harold H. Swift Distinguished Service Professor of Human Development in the Department of Comparative Human Development at the University of Chicago.

Cora Du Bois anthropologist, academic

Cora Alice Du Bois was an American cultural anthropologist and a key figure in culture and personality studies and in psychological anthropology more generally.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to anthropology:

The Foundation for Psychocultural Research is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles that supports and advances interdisciplinary and integrative research and training on interactions of culture, neuroscience, psychiatry, and psychology, with an emphasis on cultural processes as central. The primary objective is to help articulate and support the creation of transformative paradigms that address issues of fundamental clinical and social concern.

Afflictions: Culture and Mental Illness in Indonesia is a six-part ethnographic documentary film series on the lives of the mentally ill living on the islands of Bali and Java in Indonesia. Each film documents the personal journey of a patient’s diagnosis, care and treatment and the impact of culture, family, and community on the course of their illness. The films were directed and produced by ethnographic filmmaker and psychological anthropologist Robert Lemelson.

Robert Lemelson is an American cultural anthropologist, ethnographic filmmaker and philanthropist. Lemelson received his M.A. from the University of Chicago and Ph.D. from the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles. Lemelson's area of specialty is transcultural psychiatry; Southeast Asian Studies, particularly Indonesia; and psychological and medical anthropology. He currently is a research anthropologist in the Semel Institute of Neuroscience UCLA, and an adjunct professor of Anthropology at UCLA. His scholarly work has appeared in numerous journals and books. Lemelson founded Elemental Productions in 2008, a documentary production company, and has directed and produced numerous ethnographic films. His blog Psychocultural Cinema contains numerous blog-posts and edited film works.

Byron Joseph Good is an American medical anthropologist primarily studying mental illness. He is currently on the faculty of Harvard University, where he is Professor of Medical Anthropology at Harvard Medical School and Professor of Cultural Anthropology in the Department of Anthropology.

<i>Sambia Sexual Culture</i> book by Gilbert Herdt

Sambia Sexual Culture: Essays from the Field is a 1999 book about the Sambia people and their sexual practices by the anthropologist Gilbert Herdt. The book received negative reviews, accusing Herdt of being biased in his approach and his conclusions.


  1. Herdt, G. 1999. "Clinical ethnography and sexual culture." Annual Review of Sex Research 10:100-19
  2. Herdt, G. 1999. "Clinical ethnography and sexual culture." Annual Review of Sex Research 10:100-19
  3. Levy, Robert I. and Douglas Hollan (1998) "Person-Centered Interviewing and Observation in Anthropology." Pp. 333-364 in Handbook of Methods in Cultural Anthropology, edited by H. R. Bernard. Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira Press.