Uploaded by Ally Baker

Folk Medicine Article

Folk Medicine as an Open System and Adaptively Functioning in the Urban Milieu
Ally Baker
18 May 2014
Anthropology 310: Urban Anthropology
Defining Modern Medicine, Folk Medicine, and Folk Illness
Irwin Press defines folk medicine in three ways of variance. Mainly, its variance with
modern, scientific, official, authorized, literate medical traditions of a community or nation
(Press 1978:72). He adds that folk practices are shared knowledge with the public (Press
1978:72). Folk medicine is often a term used for all folk practices and beliefs that look for a cure
through folk concepts, instruments, practices, and people (Press 1978:72).
Folk illness refers to the concepts and manifestation of the disease (Press 1978:72). Folk
medicine may far outlast folk illness, as the practice of folk medicine can adapt to different
environments and can also treat non-folk-illnesses.
Modern medicine is considered a closed system in which defined, inflexible knowledge,
and procedures to find a diagnosis (Press 1978:71). This means most of the diagnosis and cures
come from evident facts rather than a patient’s needs. Modern medicine is typically expensive
and unavailable to new migrants and low economic urban dwellers (Press 1978:71).
Irwin Press states that folk health systems are open, and therefore adaptive, systems
(Press 1978:71). In this way, folk medicine prevail in response to urban socioeconomic
characteristics. This article evaluates folk illness and folk medicine in both its rural and urban
contexts. The functions of folk medicine are prevalent and similar in both rural and urban
milieus. Through this assessment, and a comparison to modern medicine, it is indicated that folk
medicine is adaptable to different environments and cultures. Folk practices are strong and
adaptable to the illnesses and their functions in the urban milieu of modern medical and welfare
Folk Illness and Practice in Rural Setting
Rural settings and communities are underdeveloped and nonindustrial areas. Rural
settings are extremely unhealthy environments with parasites and other diseases. Lacking
modern medical facilities, folk practices and medicine are often the only available source for
remedies. In a rural setting, folk illnesses deal with both disease and social drama (Press
1978:75). Through social drama, folk illness allows for alleviation of accountability of failure
and instigates economic leveling (Press 1978:76).
Folk Illness and Practice in Urban Setting
Urban life has copious amounts of diseases, and migrants are particularly susceptible to
these new diseases. Higher rates of disease for migrants are also contributed to social, cultural,
and economic marginality. Studies show that low socioeconomic status contributed to poor
health because of poorer quality nutrition, sanitation, and living quarters (Press 1978:74). If
medical facilities are available in low-income neighborhoods, it tends to be costly and
inconvenient. Folk medical systems are present in the urban setting for the same reason as in a
rural setting. Providing a cure and medicine in areas without affordable and convenient modern
medical services.
Folk medicine minimizes the traumatic experience and illnesses that come with migrating
to a completely different culture and environment (Press 1978:75). Modern medical procedures
may deny god, family roles, history, culture, and does not take cues from the patient’s needs. The
adapted folk medicine system to the urban milieu allows for patients to feel modern, while still
keeping tradition and keeping with familiar concepts, remedies, and healing personnel (Press
Illness of Failure and Sorcery in Urban Milieu
A very prevalent theme in illness is that which results from failure, resulting in lessening
attempts at achieving (Press 1978:77). In the city, folk illness may not play as important a role in
economic leveling. This is believed to be the reason for a lack of sorcery, and thereby, a lack of
envy and aggressive behavior, in the urban milieu (Press 1978:77). This may be because of a
lack of folk illness and misfortune that are highly present in rural settings. Most possessions are
attainable, thus no need for socioeconomic leveling, aggression, and envy. Sorcery has adapted
to act and cure the excuse for failure, instead of socioeconomic leveling, in the urban milieu.
Urban Curers Reliance on Patient’s
As an open system, the patient is more responsible than the urban curer for reporting
illness and social relevance to their problem. Most curers do not evaluate the patients current
conditions but rely on the patient to relay them (Press 1978:76).
Other Works
This article fills in the gaps of other works about migration and poverty read in Urban
Anthropology class 310. The Extended Community: Migration and Transformation in
Tzintzuntzan, Mexico evaluated extended communities and patterns of migration that the
Tzintintzuntzeno’s create so that when joining a new community, they don’t lose a sense of self.
Modern medicine is one way that new migrants could lose themselves (Kemper 2010: 285-286).
Lewis’ The Culture of Poverty shows the adaptions to hard times and poverty, which is the case
for migrants moving from rural conditions to low-income neighborhoods (Lewis 2010:175-176).
Both the migrant and folk medical system adapt to a new environment and different culture of
poverty. Most of the articles we read show the drastic differences in characteristics and systems
in rural and urban settings, or the individual challenges and changes involved with assimilation.
This article shows how folk medicine can be applied in both milieus. I wish to have read more
about topics such as these, the adaptions of systems settings, in class. I found the assimilation
and adaptation of folk medicine from a rural to urban setting interesting. However, there wasn’t
much backing or sites for this information. It seems most were outside sources, with a few
briefly mentioned instances of personal fieldwork and findings. I wish there were facts backing
his findings.
Through evaluating folk illness and folk medicine in both its rural contexts and urban
milieu, it is likely that folk medicine are adaptable to different environments and cultures
because it is an open system. An open system, which is one that relies more on the patient’s
diagnosis and manifested needs, allows for an adaptable system. Folk medicine and practices in
the city are more practical, affordable, available, convenient, and serves familiar ideational outlet
for new migrant opposed to modern medicine in the city. Typical functions, such as aggression
displacement, relieving stress, and role maintenance and leveling are common in both rural and
urban milieus, although function in differing ways. Evidence suggests that folk medicine and
practices are flexible and open, as they are able to meet the needs of urban residence. Folk
practices are strong and adaptable to the illnesses and their functions in the urban milieu of
modern medical and welfare systems.
Works Cited
Kemper, Robert V.
2010 The Extended Community: Migration and Transformation in Tzintzuntzan,
Mexico. In Urban Life: Reading in the Anthropology of the City Fifth Edition.
George Gmelch, Robert V. Kemper, and Walter P. Zenner, eds. Pp. 285-286.
Waveland Press, Inc.
Lewis, Oscar
2010 The Culture of Poverty. In Urban Life: Reading in the Anthropology of the City
Fifth Edition. George Gmelch, Robert V. Kemper, and Walter P. Zenner, eds. Pp.
175-176. Waveland Press, Inc.
Press, Irwin
Urban Folk Medicine: A Functional Overview. American Anthropologist, New
Series, Vol. 80, No. 1.: 71-84.
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