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Medical Anthro- Block Assg 1.docx

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ANTH 227
Tobias Rees

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Sarina Gupta Student ID: 260514896 Medical Anthropology: Block Assignment 1 “Medical anthropology” and “anthropology of medicine” are two distinct terms. The former refers to a community of individuals who jointly become ill and aspire to well-being. The latter came after, as a result of the progression of intellectual capacity, and refers to medicine as a discipline of anthropology, focusing upon the anthropologist’s study of the human in relation to medicine. Anthropology of medicine did not even arise until the 1970’s. Ethnographers, or those who focused on specific cultures and tried to understand them, before this epoch, considered European society to follow a type of linear progression or “evolution” due to its technological and scientific innovations. They deduced that since European society, unlike other contemporaneous and perhaps “primitive” societies, was evolving linearly, its method was the correct one. Europe was thus deemed a modern society, embracing the ideals of democracy, progress, and individualism. Other non-European societies had only magic or religion, as stated by WHR Rivers. He believed that, after studying “the culture of…barbarous people,” there was no natural cause of disease for these “third-world” societies, but rather disease 1 resulted from humans or “some spiritual or supernatural being”. Rivers’ views were very much influenced by a trip he took to Melanesia wherein he witnessed first-hand that, in contrast to the medical breakthroughs occurring in Europe with the discovery of bacteria using a microscope, and the emergence of vaccines, Melanesia had no advances and concluded that modern medicine was an evolutionary occurrence that natives had not yet obtained because of temporal differences. 1 W.H.R. Rivers and G. Elliot Smith, Medicine, Magic and Religion: The FitzPatrick Lectures Delivered Before the Royal College of Physicians of London 1915 and 1916 (London: Routledge Classics, 1924), 8. As time went on, ethnographers began to see that non-Western societies had other methods of improvements that were just dissimilar to Western progression. Thus, different societies could not truly be compared in terms of modernity. The arm-chair method of classical modern ethnographers evolved as the first phase, whereby ethnographers would study books and myths of other societies and attempt to interpret them. This then led into the epoch of field science, which was a slight improvement in that ethnographers would actually travel and observe other cultures, but they still did not understand an entire society and its culture in a nonjudgmental manner. After World War I, people grew distrustful of the concepts of modernity and civilization; consequently, a huge interest in non-civilized peoples came about and a new idea of ethnography grew in the idea that there could be other reasonable ways to explain the world. Thus, ethnography became a type of “liberalization”. Ethnographers began to visit other societies, observe, and attempt to understand other societies in an indiscriminatory way. The end of World War II heralded a distrust in modern methods and eventually, the end of the “Golden Age” of medicine by the 1960s. This end was the result of a lack of trust in doctors assessing a patient’s health, especially once Henry Beecher questioned the extent to which doctor’s experiments on patients were justified, intervention by other occupations in the medical field, the medicalization of social occurrences, and the idea that medicine went beyond the field of science and the hospital. Post-war destruction caused people to question the success and humanistic qualities of modernity. Was medicine actually a dehumanizing force that stripped us of
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