Culture in Anger Disorder as Culture-Bound Syndrome

Journal of Confucian Philosophy and Culture 40:133-155 (2023)
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For many, anger has been seen as irrationality, even as illness. But it seems that anger-related disorder and its culture-relatedness have not receive much attention in psychiatry. Like backward-looking ressentiment, hwabyeong 火病can be literally translated into anger disorder. In this paper, I examine the notion of anger and culture with the help of considering the case of hwabyeong as a Korean culture-bound syndrome (hereafter, CBS). Drawing on historical changes in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) and cases of hwabyeong as CBS, I will argue that the social and cultural aspects of mental disorder are indispensable parts. Additionally, it will be suggested that the rigid distinction between CBS and mental disorders is questionable. First, I begin by examining Jarome Wakefield’s harmful dysfunction analysis and Ian Hacking’s social constructionism on mental disorder. Next, given that the illness is common among poor old women who suffered from patriarchal social structures, I question whether hwabyeong is really a culturally specific illness. Moreover, hwabyeong cannot be properly understood without considering unequal power relations and extremely limited ranges of one's agency. Thus, calling it culture- bound may be due to WEIRD-ish (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic), culturally stereotypical prejudice as well as misogynic thinking concerning hwabyeong. In present times, it's worth noting that, despite common biases, hwabyeong or han (恨) is no longer solely a Korean phenomenon, thanks to recent societal advancements. In conclusion, I show that curing hwabyeong or anger management is not just medical but sociopolitical matters.

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Keunchang Oh
Seoul National University


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