Rethinking Culture Change and Psychosocial Well-Being from the Vantage Point of Late Modernity

Document Type


Presentation Date


Conference Name

Society for Psychological Anthropology's Biennial Meeting

Conference Location

Santa Monica, CA

Peer Review



Social theory that harkens back to the work of Durkheim, Tonnies and Simmel in the later 19th and early 20th century posited a process where traditional cultures would be effectively transformed into modern societies as the result of processes of industrialization and globalization and the institutions and social relations that support these processes. It was hypothesized that the resulting loss in traditional culture and practice and primary kin-based social relations in favor of modern, rational society and its formal, secondary relationships would create worsened psychosocial well-being, which was evidenced by increased rates of suicide, substance abuse, and mental illness, particularly among those in the most marginal social positions. Psychological Anthropology has long been at the forefront in considering many of these issues, beginning with Mead's early work in Samoa and then on through to the present. As we reflect on this history, we can see that the logic of these early hypotheses has not been well supported by the research conducted to date. The evidence from more contemporary anthropological studies documents how, rather than abandoning local cultural forms in favor of those associated with modernity, societies around the world have fashioned a great variety of hybridized and geographically distributed forms. Moreover, the risks to individual psychosocial well-being are highly variable from one society to the next, even when those societies have participated in similarly high rates of social change. Additionally, some individuals and groups exhibit surprising resilience in the face of even substantial levels of culture change and upheaval, and change can also generate opportunities and benefits for some, both of which suggests that change is not inherent distressing. These observations suggest the need to revisit and rethink the traditional theoretical lenses concerning the connection between social change and psychosocial well-being, and begin to developing new models of this important relationship. This workshop invites participants to begin to engage in this process, with an eye toward developing papers for a conference and an edited volume to be completed at a later date.


social change, globalization, mental health, well-being


Anthropology | Psychiatric and Mental Health | Social and Cultural Anthropology

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