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Lecture 11

ANTHROP 3HI3 Lecture Notes - Lecture 11: Menopause, Osteoporosis, Genetic Testing

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Dr. Rebecca Plett

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The idea of "an assumed biological universality of the human body" is challenged by the concept
of local biologies:
o Human bodies everywhere are inescapably entangled with evolutionary change, history,
environments, political events and culturally informed values
o The material body is "contextualized" and subject to change - this has effects on health
Local biologies and culture-bound syndromes are best understood by looking at contexts - how
they shape the material expression of "physiological" events
o Best understood through examples:
End of menstruation, eating disorders, kuru
Local biologies
The way in which biological and social processes are inseparably entangled over time, resulting in
human biological difference
Biological differentiation: the continual interaction of biological and social interaction
Difference is time - local biologies offer "snapshots" that are difficult to "subjectively assess"
Local biology challenges the universality of human bodies because embodied experience is
informed by language, social context and culturally-informed knowledge and expectations
o Knowledge about the body is also informed by social worlds and the social world is in turn
informed by the reality of physical experience
Understanding the body as contextually situated rather than "fixed":
o Variations that produce "regularities" or patterns are produced temporally rather than as
governed by stat rules
Example 1: menopause
In the West, menopause has been conflated with the end of menstruation
o Understood to be a very difficult time - unpleasant physical and psychological symptoms
(hot flashes)
Other parts of the world, social changes associated with aging (like grandparenting) are more
important than the biological changes that attract little to no attention
In NA, menopause has become almost disease-like:
o Medical interest in the management of this transition
o Pharmaceutical companies interested in symptoms and the conditions post-menopausal
people are "at risk" for e.g., heart disease, osteoporosis
Knowledge about menopause was created on the basis of symptom reporting from a small group
of people - the standardization of the body (and a white woman's body at that)
Lock's study in Japan in the 80s and 90s found that the menopausal transition is NOT a difficult
o Japanese people hold that the transition is long and gradual
o Incidences of hot flashes were non-existent or very low (Japanese men were experiencing
and reporting them more)
Japanese women identified their primary concerns at midlife to be far removed from bodily
o The care of elderly relatives, worries about their children, the economic recession and job
security are high of concern
Local biologies
Example is often difficult "to apprehend" because authority is given to scientific knowledge, and it
goes unquestioned
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