Recovering Voices in Mental Health




mental health, recovery, familes, whānau, deinstitutionalisation


This article builds from research conducted in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland in 2008, when the Recovery Model was a guiding paradigm in mental health. While ostensibly focussed on individual mental health, the Recovery Model had wider social implications. It was connected to broader moral-political projects, including more integrated forms of partnership between the State and local communities, and greater accountability to obligations and agreements between the State and Māori under Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Post-deinstitutionalisation, mental healthcare developed new moral dimensions, as responsibility for individual well-being was resituated within a more holistic, collective framework implicating all sectors of society. Whānau and families held a central position of responsibility and care within that structure. Based on ethnographic explorations of carers’ relational practices, I explore how families experienced recovery through moments of exchange and encounter at various borderlands. My participants were primarily concerned with whether, and how, familial, treatment, and social exchanges were experienced as considerate, ethical, supportive, and just – more so than they were with medical pathology, symptom alleviation, or medication efficacy. Recovery work for healthcare providers involved creating contexts that were more empowering for commonly marginalised parties, including ‘service users’, family members, and Māori and other non-Pākehā communities. Families and whānau were tasked with defining and establishing personalised conditions for recovery on a day-to-day basis. Systemic recovery involved a shift from medical power and knowledge to privilege local, cultural, and familial perspectives, strengths, and needs. In this article, I look to participants’ deployment of everyday family rituals – including shared kai/food, time and space, gifting, and adornment – as modes of domestic resistance, as well as familial insistence, that can challenge confinements of institutional power.

Author Biography

Rowan McCormick, Victoria University Wellington

I am a PhD Candidate in Anthropology at Victoria University of Wellington's School of Social and Cultural Studies.




How to Cite

McCormick, R. (2022). Recovering Voices in Mental Health. Sites: A Journal of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies, 18(2).