Society for Medical Anthropology
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
This presentation explores the theoretical development of and clinical applications to "cultural pragmatism," a novel approach to cultural competence in the medical and mental health fields. Initially developed through ethnographic research on family caregivers for Alzheimer's disease in Oaxaca (Yahalom, 2019), cultural pragmatism addresses underlying epistemological dilemmas about culture in the clinical fields and draws upon related theoretical developments including work on cultural humility (Tervalon and Murray-Garcia,1998), cultural responsiveness (Sue et al., 1991), and more recent innovation in structural competency (Metzl & Hansen, 2014). This presentation provides theoretical justification for -- as well as concrete applications to -- a pragmatic conceptualization of culture through an alternative epistemological framework. Drawing on the everyday experience of culture that the author encounters as a clinical psychologist, this presentation turns to the American Pragmatists represented by William James (1907/2000), John Dewey (1929/1998), Charles Pierce (1905), and more recent scholars who hold that truth is not an abstract, inherent property of ideas, but rather a creative process that has functional, pragmatic purpose. Leveraging this alternative epistemology in clinical settings demonstrates how cultural truths and clinical truths are similarly constituted and pragmatic in nature: perpetually in flux, contested, and oriented to the specific values at stake in individuals' everyday lives. The presentation will conclude by noting how attending to this dimension of truth and culture is critical toward addressing the lived experience of help-seeking behavior.