Medical Anthropology and the World System: A Critical Perspective

Medical Anthropology and the World System: A Critical Perspective

Medical Anthropology and the World System: A Critical Perspective

Medical Anthropology and the World System: A Critical Perspective

Excerpt

Medical anthropology is one of the youngest and, some would even boldly claim, the most dynamic of the various subdisciplines of anthropology. It concerns itself with a wide variety of health-related issues, including the etiology of disease, the preventive measures that humans as members of sociocultural systems have constructed or devised to prevent the onset of disease, and the curative measures that they have created in their efforts to eradicate disease or at least to mitigate its consequences. In some ways, the term "medical anthropology" is a misnomer that reflects the curative rather than preventive nature of health care in modern societies. After all, anthropologists who study religious beliefs and practices generally refer to their subdiscipline as the "anthropology of religion" rather than "religious anthropology." Taking their cue from sociologists who speak of the "sociology of health and illness" rather than "medical sociology," some anthropologists interested in health-related issues have suggested substituting the label "anthropology of health and illness" rather than "medical anthropology." Indeed, one of the interest groups (of which Baer and Singer were among the cofounders) of the Society for Medical Anthropology after one year of existence changed its name from the Political Economy of Health Caucus to the Critical Anthropology of Health Caucus. Undoubtedly the preference for the label "medical anthropology" over "anthropology of health and illness" constitutes yet one more example of the powerful influence of M.D. medicine (generally referred to by medical anthropologists as biomedicine) in the modern world. While we will adopt the more common usage of the term "medical anthropology" in this textbook, the perspective that informs our work is far from conventional.

In a long overview of medical anthropology, David Landy (1983:185) observes "that the human group that calls itself by the name medical anthropology . . .

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