Medical systems emerge from attempts to survive disease and surmount death, and from social and cultural responses to illness and the sick role. Descriptions and analyses of this process in world cultures define a field known as medical anthropology. Although this process is an ancient one -- perhaps 60,000 years old -- with roots in the middle Paleolithic, the field of study is a relatively new one that began with systematic inquiries by anthropologists into health practices and explanations of disease in technologically primitive and peasant cultures.
This volume represents various aspects of the state of the art of medical anthropology, emphasizing what we have called the anthropology of medicine: a study of medical thought and problem solving, the acculturation process of the healer and physician in diverse cultural settings, and the social and cultural context of medicine. Our approach is from the perspective of cultural and medical anthropologists who have taught and worked with Western-educated physicians immersed in clinical and research medicine, as well as those who have worked with other healers and patients outside the bounds of modern biomedicine and surgery. One of us provides, in addition, the perspective of a physician.
Anthropological field research is an experience in abstraction; it is an exercise in putting particulars in brackets as we search for universals in elements and the relations among them. In this sense we have chosen to fuse the particulars of Western medicine with those from other cultures for conceptual analysis in what we have called the anthropology of medicine. Beyond the surface differences, we try to expose similarities of deep structure, to demonstrate that there is a path beyond culture and that one may focus on method.