Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 36, Issue 3, pp 493–513

The Zone of Social Abandonment in Cultural Geography: On the Street in the United States, Inside the Family in India

Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s11013-012-9266-y

Cite this article as:
Marrow, J. & Luhrmann, T.M. Cult Med Psychiatry (2012) 36: 493. doi:10.1007/s11013-012-9266-y


This essay examines the spaces across societies in which persons with severe mental illness lose meaningful social roles and are reduced to “bare life.” Comparing ethnographic and interview data from the United States and India, we suggest that these processes of exclusion take place differently: on the street in the United States, and in the family household in India. We argue that cultural, historical, and economic factors determine which spaces become zones of social abandonment across societies. We compare strategies for managing and treating persons with psychosis across the United States and India, and demonstrate that the relative efficiency of state surveillance of populations and availability of public social and psychiatric services, the relative importance of family honor, the extent to which a culture of psychopharmaceutical use has penetrated social life, and other historical features, contribute to circumstances in which disordered Indian persons are more likely to be forcefully “hidden” in domestic space, whereas mentally ill persons in the United States are more likely to be expelled to the street. However, in all locations, social marginalization takes place by stripping away the subject’s efficacy in social communication. That is, the socially “dead” lose communicative efficacy, a predicament, following Agamben, we describe as “bare voice.”


Severe mental illness India United States Homelessness Family Agamben 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyStanford UniversityStanfordUSA

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