Medical Anthropology: Contemporary Theory and Method

Medical Anthropology: Contemporary Theory and Method

Medical Anthropology: Contemporary Theory and Method

Medical Anthropology: Contemporary Theory and Method


A significant update of the 1990 classic state-of-the-art handbook on medical anthropology. With new chapters on AIDS, psychology and emotion, nutrition, and bioethics, the text reflects the changes in medical anthropological theory and practice since the late 1980s. Chapters from the first edition are revised to reflect current trends and to include recent references. This work demonstrates the creative expansion and diversity in the field, amidst efforts to explore the individual sickness experience in the context of local cultures and global political and economic dynamics.


Carolyn F. Sargent and Thomas M. Johnson

In the introduction to the first edition of this book, we commented on the increasing diversification of research interests in medical anthropology. This second edition reflects increasing division in theoretical approaches among the various authors, paralleling a major cleavage in the social sciences involving whether "facts" can be uncovered, empirically discerned, and analyzed, or whether they are produced through interaction between researcher and research subject. Much research in medical anthropology employs an empiricist orientation, but a powerful alternative position also prevails, focusing on the negotiation of meanings as key to understanding social life. This edition presents perspectives on this important theoretical debate, underscoring its relevance to the multiplicity of research concerns across the field.

As a whole, this book documents the significant contribution of medical anthropologists during the past decade to the development of a comprehensive theory of therapeutic process that connects therapeutic, political, and spiritual power and to an exploration of mind-body interactions, tracing the mediation of moral and physiological domains of experience. Several authors analyze the social, cultural, and historical construction of biomedicine and argue that anthropological and dominant biomedical ways of knowing are ultimately irreconcilable; others propose valuable linkages between cultural analysis and biomedical inquiry. Numerous authors challenge reductionist models, offering alternatives to bridge the biological and social, such as the biopsychosocial model that grounds the study of disease in historical and political-economic context and that links human behavior and biology or one that challenges the psychobiological universality of emotional life.

Together with the generation of theoretical debate, medical anthropologists have expanded the disciplinary repertoire of field methods. Many medical an-

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