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  • Prozak Diaries: Psychiatry and Generational Memory in Iran by Orkideh Behrouzan
  • Narges Bajoghli
Orkideh Behrouzan, Prozak Diaries: Psychiatry and Generational Memory in Iran. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2016. 328 pp.

Orkideh Behrouzan's Prozak Diaries: Psychiatry and Generational Memory in Iran is the first book-length study of the history of psychiatry in Iran and its current standing in the Islamic Republic. As the word depreshen became used increasingly in everyday interactions in post-war Iran to refer to a host of feelings, Behrouzan set out to investigate historical moments, cultural and linguistic modes of legitimation, and pedagogical logics behind both the epidemiological and ethnographic data on psychiatry. Via ethnographic vignettes, Behrouzan introduces the reader to key interlocutors prior to the start of each chapter, which include: the reasons behind approaching the topic of the book anthropologically (Introduction and Chapter 1); the historical development of psychiatry in Iran (Chapter 2); the destigmatization of the field and the contextualization of it within the broader development of science as a national project in Iran (Chapter 3); the formation of generations and blogging as a self-expression of depreshen (Chapters 4 and 5); the increased use of Ritalin and the diagnosis of ADHD, including the story of one mother in particular (Chapter 6); and the question of posing psychiatry as a cultural critique (Chapter 7).

Trained as a physician and anthropologist, Behrouzan is uniquely positioned to delve into the ways in which clinical discourse creates the cultural forms of psychiatric dialects that are rampant in post-war Iran, while paying specific attention to generational formations. Starting the story in the 1930s when the foundations of modern Iranian psychiatry were established in what became the famed Ruzbeh Hospital in Tehran, Behrouzan provides a much-needed, comprehensive overview of the development of the field, especially in the absence of any formal historiography of Iranian psychiatry in either Persian or English. She demonstrates [End Page 433] how the establishment of the field by neurologists and neuropsychiatrists trained in France with a largely biological orientation has led to a distinctive feature where,

unlike in the United States, biomedical approaches have been dominant in Iran since the first French-trained neurologists and neuropsychiatrists set up facilities in the 1930s. This dominance took on a more evidence-based ideology in the 1990s as the efficacy of psycho-pharmaceuticals became more widely accepted.


Behrouzan outlines the historical development of psychiatry as a field within medical knowledge production and pedagogy in Iran. In doing so, she helps the reader understand that despite the widespread use of psychiatric language in Iran today, it is a field with a deep history in the country.

How is it, then, that this cultural shift took place in the 1990s in Iran, in which psychiatric discourse became so widely (and publicly) used, after decades of discussing psychological and psychiatric pathologies primarily in a private, poetic, or religious language? Behrouzan roots her study in the ways in which language, literature, and self-expression are the key underpinnings to understanding the increased use and acceptance of depreshen in Iran. Pointing to the ways in which experiences of feeling states were once articulated in layers of Persian poetry and poetic language, she does an in-depth study of not only how epidemiology is used to diagnose psychiatric states in Iran, but also the ways in which experiences of depreshen are now negotiated on eblogs, popular magazines, and radio and television shows.

In this light, Behrouzan makes an important contribution to ethnographies of post-revolutionary Iran by undertaking a nuanced study of the formation of generations and the ways in which post-revolutionary generations in Iran understand and express their experiences of living through (or with the consequences of) revolution, war, and post-war political, social, and cultural changes, often via diverse media platforms. By the early 2000s, she argues, websites and blogs dedicated to mental health mushroomed among Iran's growing educated and urban population. Yet, the readiness to employ this discourse—which was previously stigmatized—resulted from media and education campaigns as well as years of building receptivity for this kind of language. Publicly, a shift occurred during the eight-year Iran–Iraq war (1980...


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pp. 433-436
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