Current Theoretical Perspectives in Medical Anthropology

Medical anthropology is a sorely needed field of study, given that so much of a human being’s biology is affected by and is a part of social, cultural, and environmental factors. To summarize the field, medical anthropology examines the ways in which health is a causative variable in human society, and how the relationship is recursive: human society affects health. When dealing with major health issues, such as disease vectors, the effects of stress, violence, toxicity, public hygiene issues and other large impact issues, a combination of biological and anthropological investigation is definitely called for.

The issues are so complex and the territory is often so uncharted that only an anthropological approach will do when bringing together study of bio statistics, evolutionary knowledge, and cultural, political, economic, or social factors that present major challenges to the health of a society. The integration of historical ethnographical information with current and massive data resources, traditional research and observation, with up to date statistical, bio statistical, advanced models and analytical tools is essential in describing the ways in which everything from traditional healers and natural forces, to modern warfare and ecological damage impact the health of whole societies and groups of humans and the animals which sustain human life.

When dealing with a particular health condition, it has always been known that there is more than microbiology and macrobiology going on, and savvy public health officials determined to find out what the surrounding social and environmental contributing factors were. There is much written history, investigation, and reporting to support the need for determining if something as singular as a particular political policy, or as complex as a change in the industrial technologies involved with making a living contribute to changes in the health of a population.

One formalized current issue is to incorporate wider social contexts, such as social suffering. In another development, focus away from systematic approaches and toward the individual versus agency and performance. Broader explorations are a new development as religion and religious practices as well as political constructs are examined and related to issues of dealing with health and illness. Finally, larger contexts, such as regional and global contexts are considered, rather than particular group or individual contexts. The soul, belief in demons, witches, and various healing rituals are considered in a medical or health context. Studies on the African and Asian continents have included examination of South Asian dance, cult, possession, and other healing rituals. Buddhist ethics as they apply to modern medicine are examined. As a result, there is much more that is identified and examined than whether modern medicine is working or not.

Abstract: Andrea S. Wiley and John S. Allen, “Medical Anthropology: A Biocultural Approach”, July 2008, Oxford Press

Medical Anthropology Panel Abstract