All posts by Camille Morgan

Depression in Regard to Modes of Alertness

Lately, the class has been focused on how people experience culture. Culture affects people differently based on the extent to which an individual lives up to the culturally prescribed prototype. William W. Dressler’s model of cultural consonance targets this effect. This disentrainment to the primary cultural model creates stress and may be lead to depression. But what exactly is depression? In his 2013 article “Give Me Slack: Depression, Alertness, and Laziness,” John Marlovits describes depression as a mode of alertness.   For Marlovits, alertness can be viewed as one of many organizing principles that mediates everyday life. Specifically, depression is a process constituted by many enactments of alertness used to control what Marlovits describes as “affective currents.” These currents are recognized but not necessarily understood or categorized. Like the wind, the currents are felt yet invisible.

Marlovits’ ethnographic work in Seattle (18 months 2003-2004) left him with a sense of how different depressive enactments culminate in different modes of alertness.   Seattle was chosen for its pop culture definition of being a city in response to urban decay, a city more authentic, a city more grounded. Marlovits found that the reality of Seattle was in juxtaposition to this pop culture narrative. As represented by the dilapidated Kalakala art-deco depression-era ferryboat, Seattle as an imagined community was hopeful and nostalgic. The real Seattle could not measure up to this idea of an apocalyptic refuge and the depressive enactments of its inhabitants underscored this contradiction. For an informant named Steve, his response to a life-threatening heart attack was agency panic, meaning that he felt that something was a bit ajar after the incident but that he had the willpower to escape full on depressive symptoms. Marlovits’ coffee consumption, a habit in line with capitalism and the protestant ethic, led to a “pace” of life that was distinctly alert whereas the smoking habit of clients from a mental health clinic promoted more disengagement and “ellipsis in time.” Both coffee consumption and cigarette use are forms of self-medication and ways in which we entrain ourselves to a certain life tempo. Engagement and disengagement are thus everyday habits of alertness and help order time.

Marlovits seeks to tie alertness back to depression with the pop culture persona “Slacker” and the very real persona of Kurt Cobain. Cobain, the lead vocalist for Nirvana, represented alertness that was at once “confused” and “distorted.” His music and stage persona promoted “sensing the present,” which was a strong current in the act of self-harming. Cobain’s “passivity” and “despondency” typified the slacker identity as particularly defined in Richard Linklater’s 1991 film “Slacker.” The slacker’s inattentiveness can just be a way of disengaging to slowly “feel out” the new conditions of life. Why not “go with the flow” and eventually re-engage once the shock has run its course? Slackers are “lazy visionaries.”  Depressive enactments, acts of disengagement, are thus a way of coping with the uncertainties of life.

Rock music concert.
Rock music concert, “slamming bodies.”

I think that Marlovits makes some interesting points, but there is not a strong enough argument linking depression to modes of alertness. My question would be to what degree should depressive enactments be viewed as abnormal? As Marlovits illustrates, everyone has their own habits that promote engagement or disengagement (alertness or inattentiveness) so it seems likely that everyone at some point in their lives utilizes depressive enactments to mediate cultural contradictions or uneasy/unknowable realities.

TM. Tan. Laundry.

Multiple studies have shown the efficacy of TM as an intervention for treating stress. One blind study by MacLean et al. (1997) took a random sample of men ranging in age from 18-32 and tested them in a laboratory setting for acute effects of a variety of stressful tasks. The stressors were mental arithmetic, mirror star-tracing, and isometric handgrip. Measurements of hormones were taken before intervention as a baseline and after participating in TM or stress education classes (SEC) for a total of four months (twice, daily). After running a t test and ANCOVA, researchers found that the TM group’s cortisol levels significantly decreased in both baseline and overall amounts and that cortisol response was markedly more sensitive for the posttest in comparison to the pretest (MacLean et al. 1997:381).

Psych Out! Culture Shock

While reading an article by Catherine Ann Lombard titled “Coping with anxiety and rebuilding identity:  a psychosynthesis approach to culture shock” I came across a citation for the book The Psychology of Culture Shock by Colleen Ward, Stephen Bochner, and Adrian Furnham.  It is quite obvious that this was a strong resource for Lombard’s article.  The idea of the sojourner popped out at me directly.  The book is based strongly on discerning the ABCs of cross-cultural interactions.

Some chapters of interest include “Theoretical approaches to culture shock” and “Stress, coping, and adjustment.”  There’s also a really neat table on pg 72 pulled from J.H. Berry (1997) that depicts a stress and coping framework.  There’s also  a great bibliography in the back.

Culture Shock: It begins with Students

The Five Stages of Culture Shock: Critical Incidents Around the World by Paul Pedersen is a good reference for the early approaches to culture shock.  I particularly like the history of the U- and W- curves.  These visual aids are given to most students in their per-orientation programs before they travel abroad.  I know I received one before I attended a fieldschool in Portugal.  The book notes that one criticism of these curves are their linear depictions of assimilation.  I would be curious to see if, having been introduced to stage models such as these before traveling, students feel an increase in the magnitude of culture shock for not matching the model.

The Psychosythesis Approach to Culture Shock

Perhaps not as well known as his contemporaries Freud and Jung, Roberto Assagioli nevertheless left behind an impressive legacy in the form of psychosynthesis.  Lombard uses this approach in her 2014 article “Coping with Anxiety and Rebuilding Identity: A Psychosynthesis Approach to Culture Shock.”  There are a couple things I like about this article.  Firstly, Lombard begins with a pretty good literature review on culture shock.   Lombard sees student sojourners  as a rapidly increasing population that is willfully engaging in different cultural contexts.   Secondly, the self-identification exercise is a unique form of therapy that complements the subpersonality model by allowing distance from “ties that bind” in order to get at the true “I,” or what Lombard refers to as “the observer and director or all their subpersonalities” (10).

In my opinion, while I can see how these two interventions may affect the ABC’s of culture shock,  a psychosynthesis approach provides insight into what is going on biologically.   I believe a biocultural model of culture shock would provide a better avenue to understanding the phenomenon.  Identity is not merely psychologically based.

Culture Shock in the Olden Days

“How Culture Shock Affects Communication,” by LaRay Barna, was published in 1976 so I tried not to read too much into the theory behind his conceptualization of culture shock because it is embedded in the paradigm of the time, the psychology of activation which Lazarus disputed decades later.  Still, I found the list of different researchers’ definitions of culture shock to be enlightening.  The world is more globalized now than it was 50 years and people are traveling more frequently for education or work.  To me, these facts seem to inhibit the recognition of culture shock as a condition.  Traveling might have been demystified, but culture shock persists, albeit in a more muddled definition.

Body Awareness Versus Bodily Dissociation

Price and Thompson, the authors of the 2007 article “Measuring Dimensions of Body Connection: Body Awareness and Bodily Dissociation,” show that the Scale of Body Connection (SBC) is a particularly useful tool to use in measuring body dissociation in people who have experienced trauma.

The SBC is a 20 question assessment of a person’s psychophysical awareness.  The questions were based on common statements made in body therapy.  With a review of the clinical research, statements were assessed as being related either to body awareness or bodily dissociation.  First, 12 Nursing Science doctoral students were asked to evaluate the questionnaire rough draft.  Then, experts in fields associated with body therapy, trauma, and scale development were asked to approve the scale.  The sample size was 291 undergraduate students taking either a history or anthropology class.  The gender breakdown was 55% female, 45% male.  Most of the sample appeared Caucasian with an average age around 20.

The authors used confirmatory factor analysis (CFA), chi square, goodness-of-fit index (GFI), comparative fit index (CFI), normed fit index (NFI),  standardized root mean square residual (SRMS), and the root-mean-squared error of approximation (RMSEA) to measure scale validity.  Scale reliability was measured using Cronbach’s alpha in SPSS.

While the results indicate support for SBC having construct validity and internal consistency reliability, I do not think this new scale would be helpful for my study of culture shock.  How this study defines trauma does not necessarily fit the trauma I associate with culture shock.  In my opinion, even if subjects with culture shock experience body dissociation, the magnitude might be smaller than more concrete traumas and therefore might not be captured by a scale such as this.  I also think that culture shock, while including elements of dissociation both psychologically and biologically might best be measured through the proxy of stress.  This article does, however, have simple and workable definitions of body awareness and bodily dissociation that might be useful.

Dissociation: Who am I?

While I enjoyed the very detailed and all-encompassing article “Dissociation in Trauma: A New Definition and Comparison with Previous Formulations” by Nijenhuis and Van der Hart, I can’t help but feel that if I use parts of this article to draw parallels to a less dramatic phenomena, culture shock, it would be antithetical to the overall message of this article: that we need a new and specific definition of dissociation and that we need to stop muddling symptoms and disorders.  In other words, our classification itself has become a bit disordered.  Still, I think that the authors’ take on personality and identity will be helpful in describing why a person may not ‘feel like themselves’ when finding themselves in a new cultural context.  To this end, yes, personality does seem to be a biopsychosocial system  that influences an individual’s everyday mental and behavioral actions.  Inherent in this discussion of personality is perception and emotion, which I might be able to link back to Lazarus’ understanding of appraisal.  I’m not yet sure if this perspective is helpful to my take on culture shock or whether it is an unnecessary complication to my understanding of the phenomenon.