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Geographic Region

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    The place people live or occupy renders a lifestyle and cultural identity. People identify with the geographic location they live in as a part of who they are and what they believe (Kottak and Kozaitis 2012). Places have subcultures specific to their geographic location, environmental surroundings, and population.

    As one of the largest cities in the United States, New York City is home to 21 million together speaking over 200 languages (U.S. News and World Report 2017). The city itself is fast-paced and its large population supports the need for around the clock services as the “city that never sleeps.” With so many people living in the metropolis, it is a diverse melting pot of racial, ethnic, and socio-economic backgrounds though each neighborhood is its own enclave with its own identity. This large, heterogeneous population effects the impersonal, sometimes characterized as “dismissive and arrogant” attitudes of its residents. By the very nature and size of the city, people are able to maintain anonymity but cannot develop or sustain intimacy with the entire community or its residents. With millions of diverse people living, working, and playing in 304 square miles, it is understandable why tourists or newcomers feel that residents are in a rush, rude, and unfriendly.

    On the opposite side of the nation in the Central Valley of California, many residents live in rural communities. The Central Valley is home to 6.5 million people across 18,000 square miles (American Museum of Natural History 2018). Though there is a large, metropolitan hub of Fresno, surrounding communities identify themselves as small, agricultural with a country lifestyle. Here residents seek face-to-face interactions and communities operate as kin or families.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Man Watering the Plant during Daytime. (CC0 1.0; Pixabay).

    Like other social categories or labels, people use location to denote status or lifestyle. Consider people in the U.S. who “live in Beverly Hills” or “work on Wall Street.” These locations imply socio-economic status and privilege. Values of a dominant regional culture marginalize those who do not possess or have the cultural characteristics of that geographic location (Kottak and Kozaitis 2012). People who do not culturally fit in a place face social stigma and rejection.

    People move to explore new areas, experience new cultures, or change status. Changing where we live means changing our social and cultural surroundings including the family, friends, acquaintances, etc. The most desirable spaces are distributed inequitably (Kottak and Kozaitis 2012). Wealth and privilege provide access to desirable locations and living conditions. The poor, immigrants, and ethnic minorities are most likely to be concentrated in poor communities with less than optimal living standards (Kottak and Kozaitis 2012). Impoverished groups are the most likely to be exposed to environmental hazards and dangerous living conditions. The disproportionate impact of ecological hazards on people of color has led to the development of the environmental justice movement to abolish environmental racism and harm (Energy Justice Network 2018).

    Geographic places also convey or signify stereotypes. People living in or being from an area inherent the region’s stereotypes whether they are accurate or not. Think about the previous U.S. examples of “living in Beverly Hills” or “working on Wall Street.” Stereotypes associated with these labels imply wealth and status. However, approximately 10% of people living in Beverly Hills are living below the poverty rate and most people employed on Wall Street do not work for financial institutions instead are police, sanitation workers, street vendors, and public employees to name a few (Data USA 2018).


    The place someone lives influences his or her value system and life. Describe the geographic location you live and the culture of your community. What values and beliefs do the social norms and practices of your neighborhood instill or project among residents? What type of artifacts or possessions (i.e., truck, luxury car, recreational vehicle, fenced yard, swimming pool, etc.) do people living in your community seek out, dismiss, or condone? Do you conform to the cultural standards where you live or deviate from them? Explain how the place you live influences your perceptions, choices, and life.

    Body and Mind

    Like other human characteristics, society constructs meaning and defines normality to physical and mental ability and appearance (Kottak and Kozaitis 2012). Behavior categorized as “normal” is the standard for determining appropriate thinking and behavior from an illness or disorder. An example of this construct is the criteria for determining mental illness that involves examining a person’s functionality around accepted norms, roles, status, and behavior appropriate for social situations and settings (Cockerham 2014). The difficulty in defining mental disorders, similar to defining other illness or deformities, is the ever-changing perspectives of society. For example, “homosexuality was considered a mental disorder by American psychiatrists until the early 1970s” (Cockerham, 2014:3). Other terms and classifications have either been eliminated or evolved over time including Melancholia (now Depression), Amentia (once referred to Mental Retardation is no longer used), and Neurosis (which is now classified into subtypes).

    Primitive society believed mental illness derived from supernatural phenomena (Cockerham 2014). Because mental disorders were not always observable, people thought supernatural powers were the cause of illness. These preliterate cultures assumed people became sick because they lost their soul, invaded by an evil spirit, violated a taboo, or were victims of witchcraft (Cockerham 2014). Witch doctors or shamans used folk medicine and religious beliefs to produce cures. Many of these healers older in age, had high intellect, were sometimes sexual deviants, orphans, disabled, or mentally ill themselves (Cockerham 2014). Nonetheless, healers helped reduce anxiety and reinforce faith in social norms and customs.

    Both physical and mental health conditions become part of a person’s identity. Medical professionals, as was the case with witch doctors and shamans, play a role in labeling illness or defect internalizing a person’s condition as part of one’s identity (Kottak and Kozaitis 2012). As a result, the culture free, scientific objectivity of medicine has come into question. For centuries in western society, science sought to validate religious ideologies and text including the natural inferiority of women and the mental and moral deficiencies of people of color and the poor (Parenti 2006). Many scientific opinions about the body and mind of minority groups have been disproven and found to be embellished beliefs posing as objective findings. Medicine and psychiatry like other aspects of social life have entrenched interests and do not always come from a place of bias-free science.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Photo of Head Bust Print Artwork. (CC BY 4.0; 0 1.0; meo).

    People adopt behaviors to minimize the impact of their illness or ailment on others. A sick person assumes a sick role when ill and not held responsible for their poor health or disorder, the sick individual is entitled release from normal responsibilities and must take steps to regain his or her health under care of a physician or medical expert (Parsons 1951). Because society views illness as a dysfunction or abnormality, people who are ill or have a condition learn the sick role or social expectations to demonstrate their willingness to cooperate with society though they are unable to perform or maintain standard responsibilities (i.e., attend school, work, participate in physical activity, etc.).

    Social attributes around an ideal body and mind center on youthfulness and wellness without deformity or defect. Though a person’s physical and mental health ultimately affects them intrinsically, society influences the social or extrinsic experience related to one’s body and mind attributes. People face social stigma when they suffer from an illness or condition. Erving Goffman (1963) defined stigma as an unwanted characteristic that is devalued by society. Society labels health conditions or defects (e.g., cancer, diabetes, mental illness, disability, etc.) as abnormal and undesirable creating a negative social environment for people with physical or mental differences.

    Individuals with health issues or disparities face suspicion, hostility, or discrimination (Giddens, Duneier, Applebaum, and Carr 2013). Social stigma accentuates one’s illness or disorder marginalizing and alienating persons with physical or cognitive limitations. During the Middle Ages, the mentally ill were categorized as fools and village idiots. Some people were tolerated for amusement, others lived with family, and some were placed on ships for placement at a distant place (Cockerham 2014). People often blame the victim suggesting one’s illness or disability resulted from personal choice or behavior, and it is their responsibility to resolve, cope, and adapt. Blaming the victim ignores the reality that an illness or defect is always be preventable, people cannot always afford health care or purchase the medications to prevent or alleviate conditions, and care or treatment is not always available.

    Social stigma often results in individuals avoiding treatment for fear of social labeling, rejection, and isolation. One in four persons worldwide will suffer a mental disorder in their lifetime (Cockerham 2014). In a recent study of California residents, data showed approximately 77% of the population with mental health needs received no or inadequate treatment (Tran and Ponce 2017). Children, older adults, men, Latinos, and Asians, people with low education, the uninsured, and limited English speakers were most likely to have an unmet need of treatment. Respondents in the study reported the cost of treatment and social stigma were the contributing factors to not receiving treatment. Untreated mental disorders have high economic and social costs including alcoholism, drug abuse, divorce, domestic violence, suicide, and unemployment (Cockerham 2014). The lack of treatment have devastating effects on those in need, their families, and society.

    Society promotes health and wellness as the norm and ideal life experience. Media upholds these ideals by portraying the body as a commodity and the value of being young, fit, and strong (Kottak and Kozaitis 2012). This fitness-minded culture projects individuals who are healthy and well with greater social status than those inflicted with illness or body and mind differences. In today’s society, there is low tolerance for unproductive citizens characterized by the inability to work and contribute to the economy. Darwinian (1859) ideology embedded in modern day principles promote a culture of strength, endurance, and self-reliance under the guise of survival of the fittest. This culture reinforces the modern-day values of productivity associated to one being healthy and well in order to compete, conquer, and be successful in work and life.

    There are body and mind differences associated with age, gender, and race. Ideal, actual, and normal body characteristics vary from culture to culture and even within one culture over time (Kottak and Kozaitis 2012). Nonetheless, cultures throughout the world are obsessed with youth and beauty. We see examples of this in media and fashion where actors and models are fit to match regional stereotypes of the young and beautiful. In the United States, most Hollywood movies portray heroines and heroes who are fit without ailment or defect, under the age of 30, and reinforce beauty labels of hyper-femininity (i.e., thin, busty, sexy, cooperative, etc.) and hyper-masculinity (i.e., built, strong, aggressive, tough, etc.). The fashion industry also emphasizes this body by depicting unrealistic ideals of beauty for people to compare themselves while nonetheless achievable by buying the clothes and products models sell.

    Body and mind depictions in the media and fashion create appearance stereotypes that imply status and class. If one contains the resources to purchase high-end brands or expense apparel, she or he are able to project status through wealth. If one is attractive, she or he are able to project status through beauty. Research shows stereotypes influence the way people speak to each other. People respond warm and friendly to attractive people and cold, reserved, and humorless to unattractive (Snyder 1993). Additionally, attractive people earn 10-15% more than ordinary or unattractive people (Judge et al. 2009; Hamermesh 2011). We most also note, if one is able to achieve beauty through plastic surgery or exercise and have no health conditions or deformities, they are also more likely to be socially accepted and obtain status.

    People with disabilities have worked to dispel misconceptions, promote nondiscrimination, and fair representation (Kottak and Kozaitis 2012). Individuals with body and mind illnesses and differences form support groups and establish membership or affinity based on their condition to organize politically. By acknowledging differences and demanding civil rights, people with illnesses and disabilities are able to receive equal treatment and protection under the law eliminating the stigma and discriminatory labels society has long placed on them. Political organization for social change has given people with body and mind differences the ability to redefine culture and insist on social inclusion and participation of all people regardless of physical or mental differences, challenges, or limitations.

    An illustration of civil rights changes occurred in the 20th century with a paradigm shift and growth of professionals, paraprofessionals, and laypeople in mental health (Cockerham 2014). Treatment altered to focus on psychoanalysis and psychoactive drugs rather than institutionalization. With this new approach, hospital discharges increased and hospitalization stays decreased (Cockerham 2014). The most recent revolution in mental health treatment was the development of the community mental health model. The model emphasizes local community support as a method of treatment where relationships are the focus of care. This therapeutic approach uses mental health workers who live in the community to fill the service gaps between the patient and professionals stressing a social rather than medical model (Cockerham 2014). The community mental health model extends civil rights putting consent to treatment and service approach in the hands of patients.

    This page titled Geographic Region is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Vera Kennedy.

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