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North American Dialogue

Thoughts on Inactivity and an Ethnography of “Nothing": Comparing Meanings of “Inactivity” in Romanian and American Mental Health Care

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Abstract

Drawing from research in clinical mental health settings in the United States and Romania, this article considers “inactivity” as an object of study. While the “recovery movement” in the United States has attempted to combat inactivity among people with mental illnesses, many clinicians remain ambivalent, seeing inactivity both as problematic and as therapeutic. In Romanian psychiatric hospitals, inactivity is viewed as both the treatment for and the ultimate fate of people with mental illnesses. While anthropologists often study people who could be characterized as “inactive,” anthropologists have rarely addressed the experience of inactivity, emphasizing instead “productivity.” This Foucauldian impulse, I argue, obfuscates the lived realities of inactivity among many people.

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