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Research Assistant Opportunity

Reducing the Stigma of Mental Illness and Neurodevelopmental Disorders [Research Assistantship]

Professor: Roy Grinker

Department: Anthropology

Title: Reducing the Stigma of Mental Illness and Neurodevelopmental Disorders

Description: Psychiatric conditions remain the leading cause of disability in the U.S., but they are fast becoming more a normal part of humanity than a sign of disgrace. I am writing a book, under contract with Basic Books, to explain why this transition is happening, and how we can sustain it. The book tells the story of how, over the past three hundred years, doctors have invented and re-invented mental illnesses, and how societies then morally judged the people who suffered from them. Actual scientific discoveries have had little effect on the ebb and flow of the stigma of psychiatric conditions; the dynamics of stigma have to be understood through cultural history, in the ideologies of exclusion and inclusion that humans create at particular times and places.

The book begins with the proposition that “mental illness” is a modern, capitalist invention that emerged in late 18th century Europe as a moral judgment that people who were unproductive workers lacked reason and value. Indeed, since the dawn of the industrial revolution, the most stigmatized people have tended to be those who did not to conform to capitalist standards. But as our conceptions of the ideal economy and the ideal worker change, so too does stigma. Throughout the world, economies are also shifting just enough to value the people we now call “neuro-diverse” and who were previously alienated, denigrated, and perhaps institutionalized. The valued 21st century worker might be self-employed, work part-time, combine paid work with family care or volunteerism, interact virtually rather than in person, and even live with his parents into adulthood. He might be socially awkward, have restricted interests in science and technology, and be more comfortable interacting with others online than face-to-face. Such flexibility in our assessment of social and economic worth has made it possible for people with a range of differences to become valued and visible parts of economic and community life to a degree that was impossible in previous eras.

Duties: Duties include: editing, locating sources, both archival and interview; fact checking; analysis of interview tapes and transcripts; attending and analyzing relevant lectures and symposia in the D.C. area (e.g., at NIH and other parts of HHS; U.S. Military; congressional hearings). The student must be interested traveling in the history if mental illness and be willing to travel in the D.C. area to assist in gathering data.

Time commitment: 7-9 hours per week (average)

Credit hour option*: 3

Submit Cover Letter/Resume to: rgrink@gwu.edu

*If credit is sought, all registration deadlines and requirements must be met.  Students selected to be research assistants should contact Ben Faulkner at benfaulkner@gwu.edu whether they intend to pursue credit or not.

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