Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 42, Issue 3, pp 584–604 | Cite as

“The Rowdy Ones:” Configurations of Difference in a Private Psychiatric Hospital

  • Seth Donal HannahEmail author
Original Paper


Drawing on participant-observation and semi-structured interviews, this paper examines the local forms of clinical practice in a 26-bed acute psychiatric inpatient unit located within a private psychiatric hospital in the Northeastern United States. It focuses on how clinicians, staff, and management understand and utilize the concepts of culture, race, and ethnicity in their daily work, finding that a humanistic approach to care that that treats patients as “individuals” was dominant. Clinicians and staff categorized patients using descriptive, behavior based categories including language, propensity for violence, and whether patients are “from the streets.” They also used additional forms of difference such as the patient’s pathway to care, their illness category or severity, and whether they use drugs. These forms of difference were shaped by the urgent needs of daily work. These local practices of categorization directly affected the quality of care when staff members assigned cultural characteristics to group members and treated them differently as a result. These findings suggest that anthropologists and clinicians should focus on the way new forms of cultural difference are constructed in small social settings in order to provide equitable treatment to all patients.


Social categorization Psychiatry Culture Diversity Health care disparities 



This study was funded by the Russell Sage Foundation, Grant Number 87-05-03.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that has no conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Social Sciences DepartmentCalifornia Polytechnic State UniversitySan Luis ObispoUSA

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