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The definitions of culture make it in some ways easy to understand but at the same time the inherent ambiguity in the definition makes it difficult to be used readily as a variable in research. Quite often language is confused with the ethnic group, ethnic groups are conflicted with racial identity and cultures get replaced with nation states in research studies and data analysis. The definitions of culture must include some dimensions which are easy to measure and their impact on mental illness easily gauged. Historically in epidemiological studies one group of individuals is compared with another group of individuals in a way that both groups are seen as homogenous and individual differences are ignored. Cultures influence physical illnesses as much as they do mental illnesses although the mediating factors may be different. The role of individual and the cultural characteristics have to be part of the assessment.
In this chapter, Dressler provides a theory of cultural consonance which links collective representations that make up the culture of a group with the practices of individuals who enact these representations. He argues that efforts to define more precisely the role of culture in processes of both physical and mental illnesses coincided with the development of the concept of psychosocial distress. Dressler suggests that the study of collective meanings and the relationship of culture to the individual are fundamental in culture theory. His concept of cultural consonance begins with the assumption that culture is both learned and shared and that the locus of culture is within individual beings and in the aggregate social groups made of human beings.
The aim of this chapter is to examine measurement issues in the social and cultural study of the stress process. More specifically, the aim is to clarify a methodological orientation that can guide anthropologists and other fieldworkers interested in stress processes within specific social and cultural contexts. As such, this chapter is partly a review of how stress has been measured in many different studies, and partly an examination of the logic of measurement in anthropology and how it can be improved to understand the stress process. The chapter is intended as a supplement to the volume edited by Cohen et al. (1995) that reviewed issues of measurement in studies of the stress. It helps to extend that review in terms of addressing questions pertinent to the study of social and cultural dimensions of the stress process.
Culture and the stress process
In Chapter 1, Ice and James outlined the general conceptual model that guides much of research on the stress process. As they make clear, at one level it can be difficult to separate elements of the process (e.g. when is an environmental challenge an acute or a chronic stressor or when is the emotional state of the individual indicative of a stress appraisal or a coping response?). At the same time, for there to be a sensible measurement model applied to the process, conceptual distinctions need to be made.
In this chapter, I will adhere to the model outlined in Chapter 1, but with a few additions.
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