On Kleinman’s Category Fallacy

A letter of Mark van Ommeren (then working at the centre for Torture Victims in Nepal)
to Marc-Jan Trapman (Then working at the TPO/AAU project in Addis Abeba.) =/- 1997

Dear Mark Jan

Thank you for your message to me in Canada on my friend's e-mail
address.  Your question is "what is category fallacy?"

Well, to be sure I looked it up.

Joop explains it somewhere in the protocol but I forgot where in
the protocol. Anyway, the category fallacy is a term coined by
Kleinman in 1977 and summarizes his major critique of typical WHO
epidemiological research.  I will summarize what he wrote in his 1977
article:  “Although depression is present in many different cultures,
this does not mean that it may take a complete different form in
different cultures.  The, for example, CIDI section of depression
represents a fraction of the entire field of depressive phenomena." it
is a cultural category constructed by western psychiatrists to yield
a homogeneous group of patients. per definition , it  excludes most
depressive phenomena , even in the west, because they fall outside
its narrow boundaries. "applying such categories in non-western
cultures leads to a category fallacy because by definition it will
find what is universal and it will systematically miss what does not
fit in tight parameters. but what is missed is more interesting when
one does cross-cultural psychiatry because the missed symptoms will
be the most striking examples of the influence of culture on

I feel certain that we in Nepal have not overcome the category
fallacy even though we did some anthropological groundwork.

sorry for my late response.

groeten, Mark

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