Toward an Ecosocial View of Contemplative Practice: Cultural Phenomenology, Regimes of Attention and Narrative Constructions of the Self
The Contemplative Sciences Center hosted Laurence Kirmayer for his talk on cognitive science, psychological anthropology, and cultural psychiatry across cultures and context through a contemplative lens.
Theories of embodiment and enactment provide ways to elaborate an ecosocial view of mind that integrates neurobiology and sociocultural contexts. In this view, mental phenomena are produced by looping effects within and between the body/brain/person and the social world. These loops are mediated by psychophysiological, cognitive, and discursive processes involving metaphoric, narrative, and rhetorical practices that configure the self. The built environment, circulating narratives, and social institutions together constitute forms of life, which offer individuals particular niches or positions, with corresponding modes of self-understanding and construal, as well as specific affordances for action.
Contemplative practices involve regimes of attention that change the dynamics of bodily-cognitive-social loops in ways that can yield ethical and pragmatic insights but that can also cause persistent dislocation and distress. Cultural psychiatry argues that the outcome of any practice depends on both its personal meaning and the responses of others in local social worlds. Systematic attention to culture and context can inform the design of research that allows us to see more clearly how contemplative practices both reflect and challenge conventional constructions of reality. Reflection on the larger social, cultural and political contexts of contemplative science itself can open up new avenues of inquiry and provide frameworks for ethical and pragmatic critique.
Laurence J. Kirmayer, MD, FRCPC, FCAHS, FRSC is James McGill Professor and Director, Division of Social and Transcultural Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry, McGill University.
He is Editor-in-Chief of Transcultural Psychiatry, and Director of the Culture & Mental Health Research Unit at the Institute of Community and Family Psychiatry, Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, where he conducts research on culturally responsive mental health services for immigrants and refugees, the mental health of Indigenous peoples, and the philosophy of psychiatry. Learn more about Laurence Kirmayer.