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Rethinking chronicity: an ethnographic perspective on mental health service provision - 8 September 2021

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About the event

Part of the Centre for Society and Mental Health seminar series. Hosted by Dr Dorte Bemme, and led by Dr. Milena Bister from Humboldt University of Berlin. 

The concept of chronicity, i.e. the ways we think about long-term mental illness, has a long history in mental health care. Most actors in mental health care settings assume that chronicity refers to the severity, duration and prognosis of an illness. 

This seminar will explore when and how a mental health condition is labeled “chronic”, and how this affects the provision of care and support for those affected. Dr. Milena Bister will discuss how chronicity can be understood as an empirical artefact and how a social science perspective can bring into view how the concept impacts service provision. In line with recent social science research, Bister suggests to reassess the meaning of chronicity through the ways it operates in everyday practice. Based on ethnographic research in community and hospital care facilities in Berlin, she will speak to the ways in which reference to the concept of chronicity affects how resources of time, matter and knowledge are distributed and how accountability is practised. Everyday care work in mental health care settings, she argues, situates and defines chronicity in a variety of ways. By unpacking the multiple linkages between care practices and chronicity, this seminar invites everyone to re-evaluate both the approaches to chronicity that we use ourselves and the questions we ask about mental health and service provision.


Dr. Milena Bister is a socio-cultural anthropologist. Her work is located at the crossings of medicine, science and technology studies, the anthropology of knowledge, and urban anthropology. Her research explores socio-material orderings of mental health and illness in public mental health care practices and urban living. Milena Bister is a member of the “Laboratory: Anthropology of Environment | Human Relations”, Institute for European Ethnology, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, and lecturer in European Ethnology at the University of Vienna.

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At this event

Dörte  Bemme

Dörte Bemme

Lecturer in Society and Mental Health

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Event details

8 September 2021

Online event