Is Health Subjective?
For Anthropology 2017 we tackled some big questions anthropology has attempted to answer. As part of a chapter in Anthropology: What Does it Mean to be Human?, “How is Anthropology Applied in Medicine?” (Lavenda and Schultz 2015:447-474), a big question: “Is Health Subjective?” We also watched Paul Farmer’s I believe in health care as a human right on YouTube.
Perceptions of health and illness
Lavenda and Schultz begin with a strong statement about the need to understand the perception of health and illness: “In the United States, many people understand health as a state of physical, emotional, and mental well-being, together with an absence of disease or disability that would interfere with such well-being. Anthropologists recognize, however, that what counts as wellness or its opposite is very much shaped by people’s cultural, social, and political experiences and expectations” (2015:448).
In Is the Developed World We’ve Created Giving Us Cancer? (June 2017) Chelsey Kivland asks an important question: “Why do people, across cultures and societies, tend to focus on the individual person as the unit of analysis?” Kivland answers:
For one, it is fundamentally easier than focusing on a system: social, political, or ecological. Laying blame on a person or a gene also plays neatly into the cultural metaphors we’ve sustained about all sorts of illness: that disease is a consequence of personal rather than societal failings. This certainly locates blame in the afflicted, protecting the well from facing their individual fears of illness. But it severely limits our ability to understand and eradicate collective epidemics, like cancer.
Anthropology Blog Resources on Health & Medical Anthropology
There are lots of resources available for questions of Medical Anthropology. The resources below are from the feeds of Anthropology Blogs. Please let me know about useful updates!
- In January 2018, Anthropology News published 10 articles on Health and Well-being:
- Fat Consequences by Jessica Hardin and Hanna Garth: “Obesity is about more than stigma, it is about exceeding one’s social space.”
- False Steps by Amy W. Farnbach Pearson: “Biohacking and Fitbits promise better health, but deliver a very Victorian mindset.”
- The Hidden Harm of Surgery by Alison Heller: “How the data obfuscate surgical outcomes for obstetric fistula.”
- Rethinking “Big Problems” in Arctic Health by Elspeth Ready and Peter Collings: “Mixed methods approaches, community engagement, and indigenous perspectives help uncover the links between Inuit culture and health.”
- Advocating for Health Care Access by Thurka Sangaramoorthy and Krisjon Olson: “Anthropologists challenge threats to health care coverage for immigrants and people living with disability in the United States.” (See the related Anthropology on Immigration.)
- Caring in Ancient Times by Alecia Schrenk and Lorna Tilley: “A new bioarchaeological approach suggests health care has a long human history.” Tilley and Schrenk are editors of New Developments in the Bioarchaeology of Care: Further Case Studies and Expanded Theory.
- Resisting Overdose by Andrea M. Lopez in consultation with Maurice Abbey-Bey and Tamika Spellman: “In Washington, DC, people who use opioids confront the epidemic and intervene to stop death.”
- Cultivating Vitality by Stacey Langwick: “Tanzanians are redefining health and the forms of governance that might be promoted in its name.” Langwick is the author of Bodies, Politics, and African Healing: The Matter of Maladies in Tanzania.
- A Reiki Sense of Well-Being by Dori Beeler: “For its practitioners, Reiki offers an ongoing path towards well-being.”
- Living with “Risky” Bodies by Simanti Dasgupta: “In Kolkata, female sex workers’ well-being is overshadowed by practices and conceptions around HIV/AIDS.” Dasgupta is the author of BITS of Belonging: Information Technology, Water, and Neoliberal Governance in India.
- Identity politics, partisanship and healthcare (July 2017) by Maria Cecilia Dedios on Somatosphere provides interesting perspective on the 2017 U.S. healthcare debates. “Medical anthropology can provide insights to inform the current healthcare system debate. Among those, conceptual tools and a large body of evidence that informs how and what value is assigned to health in different local worlds, and the power struggles that define who is deserving of health and healthcare coverage. It seems more important than ever to engage people within and outside the discipline in these debates.”
- Cancer, Care and Hope – A Hospital Ethnography on Palliative Care in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (May 2017) is a nice long research article by PhD student Andrea Buhl. The Medizinethnologie blog is a great international resource for these discussions. In January 2018 Medizinethnologie announced a special issue: Im/Mobilities and Dis/Connectivities in Medical Globalization: How Global is Global Health? with a number of interesting articles.