Global Humanitarian Interventions: Managing Uncertain Trajectories of Cambodian Mental Health

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Critics of humanitarian intervention and the global dissemination of trauma-related therapeutic discourse and practice have problematized the politics of global mental health intervention in “high-risk populations.” Building upon the “Holocaust model” of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, according to the illness construct of Transmitted Effects of Trauma (TET) descendants of genocide, mass violence, terrorism, and natural disasters continue to be at risk of pathology even centuries after the foundational traumatizing event. Trauma brokers warn that TET may take on epidemic proportions. Practitioners monitor, gauge, and classify individuals, communities, and nations and the level of risk and uncertainty they face. This paper critically evaluates the global policy and technologies of governance of trauma victims ‘at risk’. Cambodian mental health discourse will be analyzed, while ethnographic interviews with Cambodian descendants will illustrate resistant responses to intervention. Hybrid discursive formations of psychological discourse and practice and Khmer culture-specific senses of personhood and suffering are constituted and harnessed to institutionally manage and govern the “disorder” of potential mental health uncertainty. Problematizing the policies and technologies of uncertain mental health, interviews with trauma descendants present resistant Buddhist world views on death, suffering, and fate incongruent with conceptualizations of risk and uncertainty within global humanitarian policy and interventions.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationModes of Uncertainty
Subtitle of host publicationAnthropological Cases
EditorsPaul Rabinow, Limor Samimian
PublisherUniversity of Chicago Press
ISBN (Print)9780226257075
StatePublished - 2015


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