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Mike   Poltorak

School of Anthropology and Conservation
University of Kent (United Kingdom)
[ ]

I speak in the following language(s): Tonga (Tonga Islands)

Member of
European Society for Oceanists (ESfO)
Geographic administrative areas
Geographic places
Historical periods
21st century
20th century
Indigenous languages
Tongan, Spanish
  • PhD Research (1996 to 2002)
    Aspersions of Agency: Tevolo, love and sickness in Vava'u, Tonga — UCL
    This ethnographic research focused on biomedical practitioners and local healers in Vava’u, Tonga in order to address contemporary concerns about rising rates of mental illness among Tongan populations and their diasporas in New Zealand, Australia and the USA. Psychiatric services have had limited success in promulgating biomedical understandings of mental illness; this ethnography examines how psychiatric concepts are at once assimilated and subverted as a function of local people’s ideas of illness as caused by tēvolo (spirit). This research shows that an examination of how knowledge of tēvolo is constituted by healers requires a concomitant treatment of people’s concern with tauhi vaha’a, roughly glossed as ‘looking after relationships’. By virtue of rendering this idea analytical – i.e. by using it to illuminate people’s interpretations of others’ behaviour – the ethnography demonstrates how inter-subjectivity (interaction between conscious minds) informs the claims to knowledge (explicit or implicit) that are manifest in the interpretations of medical practitioners, healers, sufferers and lay persons. The ethnography’s claims to originality lie in: (i) the detailed empirical description of previously undocumented healers’ practices (identified by W.H.O as a deficit)(ii) the rendering of indigenous concepts as analytical tools; and (iii) my problematising the production of knowledge in relation to local notions of personhood and the distinction between Vavauan and more broadly scientific ideologies of language.
  • Field Research (2004 to 2005)
    Aspersions of Agency: Love and Mental Illness in Tonga — Brunel University (ESRC Postdoctoral Award)
    This one-year project formulated an interdisciplinary engagement and medical anthropological intervention in mental health policy in Tonga and New Zealand. The collaborative research strategy involved the use of discussion in dedicated presentations and interest groups around highlighted ethnographic case studies of mental illness, and public health provision in a self published book version of my PhD thesis. This led to publication of a paper foregrounding an ethnographic engagement with interdisciplinarity. A self-published version of my doctoral thesis is currently being used to teach the Pacific Island Mental Health Component of Health and Community Studies Courses at UNITEC, an Institute of Technology in Auckland, New Zealand.
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