Medical Anthropology

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Medical Anthropology
A. McElroy

Aus: D.Levinson, M. Ember (Hrsg.) Encyclopedia of Cultural Anthropology. Henry Holt, New York 1996; (Permission given by Prof. McElroy Jan. 21th 2002)

Medical anthropology is the study of human health and disease, health care systems, and biocultural adaptation. The discipline draws upon the four fields of anthropology to analyse and compare the health of regional populations and of ethnic and cultural enclaves, both prehistoric and contemporary. Collaboration among paleopathologists, human biologists, ethnologists, and linguists has created a field that is autonomous from any single subdiscipline, with strong potential for integration of physical and Cultural anthropology. The field is also highly interdisciplinary, linking anthropology to sociology, economics, and geography, as well as to medicine, nursing, public health, and other health professions.

Since the mid-1960s, medical anthropology has developed three major orientations. Medical ecology views populations as biological as well as cultural units and studies interactions among ecological systems, health, and human evolution. Ethnomedical analysis focuses on cultural systems of healing and the cognitive parameters of illness. Applied medical anthropology deals with intervention, prevention, and policy issues and analyses the socioeconomic forces and power differentials that influence access to care. In this triad, cultural anthropology is most closely allied with ethnomedicine. In the formative years, some anthropologists favoured identifying the field as "ethnomedicine," while others preferred "anthropology of health." The term "medical anthropology prevalled, however, coming to represent a diversified range of orientations.

History George M. Foster and Barbara Gallatin Anderson (1978) trace the development of medical anthropology to four distinct sources: the interest of early physlcal 1

anthropologists in human evolution and adaptation, ethnographic interest in primitive medicine, studies of psychiatric phenomena in the culture and personality school, and anthropological work in international health. William H. R. Rivers (1924), a physician, is considered the first ethnologist of non-Western medical practices. Early theoretical work by Forrest E. Clements (1932) and Erwin H. Ackerknecht (1942, 1946) also attempted to systematize primitive medical beliefs and practices. Paralleling theory development were early applications of anthropological principles to health problems. Since the 1940s anthropologists have helped health care providers understand cultural differences in health behaviours, as shown in Benjamin D. Paufs edited volume Health, Culture and Community: Case Studies of Public Reactions to Health Programs (1955), one of the first medical anthropology texts.

William Caudill (1953) was the first to identify the field, followed by review articles by Steven Polgar (1962) and by Norman Scotch (1963). Academics, applied scientists, and clinicians enthusiastically worked in the 1960s to organize the emerging social science in medicine movement at national meetings of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) and the Society for Applied Anthropology (SfAA). Caudill, Polgar, and Scotch were among the most active, as were Hazel Weidman, Arthur Rubel, Dorothea Leighton, Clifford Barnett, Marvin Opler, Marion Pearsall, Donald Kennedy, Benjamin Paul, and Charles Leslie.

The Group for Medical Anthropology (GMA), established in 1967 with Weidman as chair, affiliated with the SFAA in 1969. As the Society for Medical Anthropology (SMA), the organization became a formal section of the AAA in 1972, with Dorothea Leighton, a psychiatrist-anthropologist, serving as its first president. Membership grew from 657 in 1972 to 1,523 in 1993, including a few hundred Canadian and other international members, primarily Europeans. Next to North America, Great Britain has the largest number of medical anthropologists. Most of...
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