Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry

, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 135–172 | Cite as

Social defeat and the culture of chronicity: or, why schizophrenia does so well over there and so badly here

  • T. M. Luhrmann


The history of the way schizophrenia has been conceptualized in American psychiatry has led us to be hesitant to explore the role of social causation in schizophrenia. But there is now good evidence for social impact on the course, outcome, and even origin of schizophrenia, most notably in the better prognosis for schizophrenia in developing countries and in the higher rates of schizophrenia for dark-skinned immigrants to England and the Netherlands. This article proposes that “social defeat” may be one of the social factors that may impact illness experience and uses original ethnographic research to argue that social defeat is a common feature of the social context in which many people diagnosed with schizophrenia in America live today.


schizophrenia social defeat social causation ethnography of psychosis homelessness 



This paper has benefited greatly from the comments of Kim Hopper, Glynn Harrison, George Luhrmann, Cathleene Macias, Martha McClintock, Sue Estroff, Anne Becker, anonymous reviewers for Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, and from the comments and work of students involved in the Uptown project: Amy Cooper, Jim Goss, Barnaby Riedel, Johanne Eliacin, and Kim Walters.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of ChicagoChicagoUSA

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