What is so
Anthropological about
Health, Illness and
Medical Anthropology
What is Anthropology
Anthropos means human and logia is
study so that anthropology is the study of
The study of human differences, cultural
and biological, in the context of human
nature. Anthropologists identify and
compare behavior of a particular group
against the full range of human behavior.
These comparisons should uncover
principles that apply to all human
Introduction to Medical Anthropology
What is Anthropology
Anthropologists studied the way
of life, remains, language, and
physical characteristics of people
-- social facts
Customs, values, and social
patterns of different cultures
were described and sometimes
compared. How are different
people in different places similar
and different, both biologically
and behaviorally? Spotting
cultural patterns requires "fresh,
neutral eyes."
Introduction to Medical Anthropology
What is Culture?
How do you define it? How do you know
when you’ve encountered it?
 Culture . . .
 There
is a strong interest in how culture
changes over time and in cross-cultural
comparison that may lead to universal
generalizations. Sometimes, this is called
Introduction to Medical Anthropology
What is Culture?
Culture is that database of knowledge, values, and
traditional ways of viewing the world that determines
much of our behavior. Social structure (personal
relationships and status in groups), especially kinship
and marriage networks, but also family structures and
property rights are integral parts of "culture.“
Culture is a system of shared values, ideas, concepts,
meanings and rules that underlie and are expressed in
the ways that human beings live.
Introduction to Medical Anthropology
It’s about a group of people…
“It is the participants in a culture who give
meaning to people, objects, and events. . .
. It is by our use of things [and what we
say, think, and feel about them] that we
give them meaning.” (Stuart Hall 1997)
Introduction to Medical Anthropology
Definitions of “Culture”a note to keep in mind
In 1952, anthropologists Alfred Kroeber
and Clyde Kluckhohn attempted to define
 160 definitions later, they stopped . . .
 . . . suggested that they were still not
Introduction to Medical Anthropology
Definitions of “Culture”
the bottom line
Kroeber & Kluckhohn (1952) realized that
all of their definitions came down to three
common areas
 Meanings, social practices, and material
 What people think, what people do, and
what people make
 Culture’s most essential feature is that it is
Introduction to Medical Anthropology
Anthropological Definitions
Historical: social heritage or tradition passed on to
succeeding generations
Behavioral: shared, learned human behavior; a way of life
Normative: ideals, values, rules for living
Functional: methods of problem-solving and adapting to
specific environment
Structural: patterns of interrelated ideas, symbols, and
Symbolic: arbitrarily assigned meanings agreed upon by a
Introduction to Medical Anthropology
Finding & Decoding Cultural Components
of Health, Illness, & Healing
Primary purpose is to uncover the historical, normative,
and symbolic elements of culture
Historical: where does the culture of medicine come
from? How did it develop and how is it passed on?
Normative: what ideals, values, and rules are inherent to
the culture of medicine?
Symbolic: what are the agreed-upon meanings – of the
body, of health/wellness, of disease/illness, of life/death?
Introduction to Medical Anthropology
Why study culture in medical
From an anthropological perspective,
culture is the single most significant
evolutionary adaptation in the success of
modern humans.
 The particular way that a community of
individuals organizes itself and marshals
its skills, knowledge, and energies to
combat disease is a central part of culture.
Introduction to Medical Anthropology
Why study culture in medical
Improving health care in Third World contexts (whether
home or abroad) requires culturally appropriate methods.
 What power relationship is implicit here?
All countries of the world are increasingly divided into
healthy upper classes and continuing unhealthy
underclasses (WHO 1999).
 What meanings & social practices contribute to this
power structure?
Introduction to Medical Anthropology
Introduction to Medical Anthropology
What is so cultural
about physiology
and anatomy?
Culture, Body and Technology
The human body has a
social as well as a
physical reality
The shape, size and
adornments of the body
are a way of
information about the
Introduction to Medical Anthropology
The Body Self and Health
The social body or
social self is
 The body image is
a representation of
Introduction to Medical Anthropology
The Body Self and Health
The health risk of such
body image may damage
the physiological and
anatomical construction of
a body
Such “mutilation” of the
body is a self-identification
and yet prone to health
Introduction to Medical Anthropology
The Symbolic Body and Health
The concept of body
self can is a
representation of
body aesthetics to the
detriment of health
and illness
Body self is culturally
Introduction to Medical Anthropology
The Function of the Body
Introduction to Medical Anthropology
Beliefs about the
body structure can
have clinical
importance, those
about how it
functions are
probably more
significant in how
they affect people’s
The function of body and health
Medical Dualism
 Hot-Cold
 Evil-Good Omen
 Dirty-Clean
 Ugly-Beautiful
 Balance-Imbalance
 Yin-Yang
 Kulam-Barang
Medical Pluralism
 Western Medicine
 Traditional Medicine
 Ayurvedic Medicine
 Chinese Medicine
 Trans Medicine
Introduction to Medical Anthropology
Cultural Language in Health
(Symbolic Anatomies)
Plumbing the body
 Heart of life
 Medical Technology
 These
some terms are mystical metaphors
that bear no relation to physical reality, but it
is because of these metaphors that
individuals expresses themselves in terms of
how they explain illness and health
Introduction to Medical Anthropology
Medical Anthropology 21st Century
Introduction to Medical Anthropology