Reference and Research Resources for Medical Sociology, Medical Anthropology, and Health Psychology

By Polacek, Kelly Myer | Reference & User Services Quarterly, Winter 2013 | Go to article overview

Reference and Research Resources for Medical Sociology, Medical Anthropology, and Health Psychology


Polacek, Kelly Myer, Reference & User Services Quarterly


Understanding human health and healthcare provision is one of the most relevant issues today. The fields of medical sociology, medical anthropology, and health psychology offer unique approaches to studying human healthcare issues and their interconnections with medical, behavioral, socioeconomic, cultural, and international issues, among others. Here, Spencer Acadia provides detailed descriptions of these fields and suggests several books for inclusion in a variety of library types. He also describes the content available on the websites of many important organizations and institutions. In addition to a background in library science, Mr. Acadia has studied sociology and psychology through the master's and doctoral levels. He has taught college courses in the social and behavioral sciences and currently works as research librarian in sociology, psychology, and anthropology at the University of Texas at Tyler.--Editor

Within the larger academic disciplines of sociology and anthropology are two subfields dedicated to studying the social and cultural conditions of human health and medicine. Medical sociology incorporates a vast range of inquiry including topics such as socioeconomic distributions of diseases among populations; evaluation of local, national, and global health care systems; concepts of illness and sickness as forms of social control and labeling; and considerations of how technology is defining and redefining social and cultural archetypes of health, illness, and treatment. (1) Similarly, medical anthropology is interested in a wide array of sociocultural, humanistic, and historical interpretations of health experiences, constructions of medical knowledge, and applications of healing practices across time, space, and context. (2) A key element of these two fields is a clear recognition of the ways in which human experiences of health are influenced and interpreted by social and cultural factors.

Fundamental commonalities shared by medical sociology and medical anthropology are that they (1) question what it means to be "healthy" or "ill" based on variant social constructions and cultural beliefs; (2) explore, theoretically and empirically, the possible pathways through which social and cultural factors affect health outcomes; (3) seek to explain the many antecedents to and consequences of existing and evolving health norms, beliefs, and patterns; and (4) investigate topics in health and medicine through social and cultural lenses using quantitative and qualitative methodologies. (3)

Health psychology involves a variety of themes such as exploring how mood, self-esteem, personality, identity, and other individual attributes might affect health; evaluating the role of interpersonal exchange, communication, and relationship development in improving and sustaining beneficial health experiences; creating, implementing, and testing theories of behavior and learning toward effective assessment of health outcomes and risk reduction strategies; and helping people manage and cope with the mental stressors of chronic diseases, lifelong disabilities, and terminal illnesses. (4)

Despite its individualist bent, health psychology shares research interests with topics in medical sociology and medical anthropology such as (1) biomedical explanations alone cannot account for the complexities of human health; (2) health is not merely the absence of sickness, but instead comprised of many interconnected qualities; (3) many aspects of health and medicine can be studied across interrelated disciplines; and (4) health outcomes and experiences can be dictated by macro-, meso-, and micro-level events. (5)

The knowledge of and insights provided by medical sociology, medical anthropology, and health psychology are a welcome addition to the librarian's toolbox. Students, faculty and the general public may perceive health and medical issues in the domain of evidence-based biomedicine without realizing the social, cultural, and behavioral implications of and impacts on human health experiences. …

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