Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 34, Issue 2, pp 353–379 | Cite as

Trauma and Humanitarian Translation in Liberia: The Tale of Open Mole

  • Sharon Alane AbramowitzEmail author
Original Paper


The focus of this paper is the intercultural process through which Open Mole and trauma-related mental illnesses are brought together in the postconflict mental health encounter. In this paper, I explore the historical dimension of this process by reviewing the history of Open Mole, and the ways in which it has been interpreted, acted on, and objectified by external observers over the last half-century. Moving into Liberia’s recent war and postconflict period, I examine the process by which Open Mole is transformed from a culture-bound disorder into a local idiom of trauma, and how it has become a gateway diagnosis of PTSD-related mental illnesses, and consider how it is produced as an objectified experience of psychiatric disorder in clinical humanitarian contexts. By studying how Open Mole is transformed in the humanitarian encounter, I address the structure and teleology of the humanitarian encounter and challenge some of the foundational assumptions about cultural sensitivity and community-based mental health care in postconflict settings that are prevalent in scholarship and practice today.


Liberia Trauma Open Mole Transcultural psychiatry Culture-bound syndromes Idiom of distress Community-based mental health Humanitarian intervention 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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