The Anthropology of Medicine: From Culture to Method

By Lola Romanucci-Ross; Daniel E. Moerman et al. | Go to book overview

PART I
MEDICAL SYSTEMS AND THE USES OF CHOICE

The exchange of ideas between cultures concerning health and illness is no simple matter, and the interacting of medical systems provides a rich context for understanding the relationships between biology and the culture of medicine. In any particular case, how and which specific disease and disease concepts and specific medicines and ideas about their use and effectiveness are exchanged is an empirical question. But models for the nature of the exchange and the historicocultural context for the exchange provide an important focus for analyses that can (and often do) make prediction, and therefore health planning, possible.

The common conceit of the West -- that the benefits of scientific medicine are obvious, as are the truths on which those benefits are based -- is a conceit held by all people regarding their own medical systems. It was as true for the bleeding and purging physicians of the nineteenth century as it is for the neurosurgeons and cardiologists of the twentieth. These ideas, associated with fundamental principles of belief about the major cosmological issues of life and death, generally are very deeply held. In the United States in recent years, major political and social conflicts have raged over what can be narrowly conceived as medical issues. Abortion, the definition of death (or medical death), and the notion of "death with dignity" are examples of such issues where broad, deeply held beliefs influence medical matters.

Medical systems are, of course, part of the larger cultural system of any group. Ideas about sickness, health, and curing constitute a system -- that is, one can consider the parts and analyze the relations among the parts. Such beliefs within cultural systems in contact are either reinforced or become diminished or distorted; the reason for this is that the system must, and does, include those persons whose perception and cognition conceptualize

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