Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 36, Issue 3, pp 493–513 | Cite as

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

  • Jocelyn MarrowEmail author
  • Tanya Marie Luhrmann
Original Paper


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 



Jocelyn Marrow’s field research was supported with a Junior Fellowship from the American Institute of Indian Studies and a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Award; research with human subjects was approved by the University of Chicago’s Institutional Review Board. Much gratitude is due to her research subjects, the institutions that allowed her to conduct research, her assistant, Sanghamitra Sarkar, M.A., and her research guides at Banaras Hindu University: Professor Anjoo Sharan Upadhyaya, Ph.D. and Professor Indira Sharma, M.D. Tanya Marie Luhrmann’s research was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health. She is grateful to the students who participated in that project (Amy Cooper, Johanne Eliacin, Jim Goss, Barnaby Reidel and Kim Walters) and above all to the clients and staff who spoke with her in Uptown.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyStanford UniversityStanfordUSA

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