Lecture 18 4/10/2013 1:43:00 PM
Anthropology as an ‘action’ social science in the examination of modern issues in
a global world made up of a multitude of local traditions.
o Human rights
o International development
o Cross-cultural social workers
o Medical anthropology
o Urban social planning
o Public policy
o Business consultants
Many projects of international development have failed for not taking into
account the culture in which they were elaborated.
Project of agricultural program: The anthropologists facilitate a constant
dialogue between the farmers and agricultural scientists, which had very
different perspectives one from another (Cf. textbook p. 352-355).
Projects of humanitarian aid after natural disasters: Dr. Alicia Sliwinski,
Example of failed international development:
Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) milk cows projects in Peru
in the 1970s.
International development projects of domesticating wild pigs in hunting
societies of the Amazon.
The term ‘medical’ does not refer specifically to the field of ‘medicine’ as it is
defined in the West.
Medical here points to a wider array of concerns that relate more broadly to
human ideas of well-being, health, illness and disease.
We commonly tend to see a binary opposition between medical systems based
on traditional knowledge and those based on ‘modern’ Western science.
Contemporary social anthropologists tend to move beyond such ‘either/or’
approaches: The two systems are not mutually exclusive: Many cultures today incorporate
both traditional and Western concepts into their medical systems.
We do not have to forget that biomedical knowledge is also a traditional
knowledge rooted in Western history and passed along within Western cultures.
‘Modern’ is a relative concept. Each culture defines its own ‘modernity’ based on
its own interpretations and techniques rooted deep in time and emergent ideas
in the now.
Western biomedical approaches can be very effective when it comes to saving
lives, but they also have their limitations.
They are asocial and highly technologized, bureaucratized and industrialized.
In this sense, they stand in opposition to the anthropologist’s goals of
understanding individuals and their lives as situated in specific contexts.
Medical anthropologists actively seek to remain open to non-Western culturally
defined ways of knowing and being.
They understand the need to contextualize all situations, since the traditional
and biomedical approaches successfully work together only when cultural
context is taken into account.
Medical anthropology takes into account that there are different cultural
interpretations of disease and illness.
For example: Some specific symptoms in the Amazon are considered as the sign
of witchcraft, while from the biomedical perspective they can be interpreted as
parasitic worm infestation.
Using Western medicine alone would not cure the person.
The way a culture collectively interpret their world and their place in the world
as an impact on their health an well-being.
The holist approach of medical anthropologists allows them to examine the
many human factors – political, economical, social, and cultural – that shape
health and well-being.
Being applied requires to be present in the real world and aware of all the
factors that shape that world.
Community health and medical education: How to deliver medical care to
distinct ethnic groups.
International health: Demographics, epidemiology, planning, environmental
Aging and gerontology: Research on aging in different cultures.
Maternal and child health: Prenatal care, nutrition, immunization programs Dying from witchcraft:
Someone who is said to be bewitched knows that he has to see a shaman
otherwise he is condemned to die.
The social consensus suggests that death is the only issue:
Members of the community retract, stay away from the bewitched and treat him
as a source of danger.
The bewitched falls in terror, loses support of the group, his physic integrity
cannot stand the dissolution of his social personality.
Cross-cultural training program for doing business in foreign countries.
Social knowledge or values are based on an underlying taken-for-granted
Coming to understand another cultural logic is of great importance for any cross-
cultural business partnership.
Business in Japan
The presentation of the business card: meishi.
The business card is considered as an extension of the self.
Mistreating the business card is insulting and ruins any attempt to business
partnership. (Textbook, p. 355-356)
Urban Social Planning:
Anthropologists can make important contributions in urban policy contexts, in
the process of identifying and seeking solutions to problems of particular
For example: The well being of children in the city in relation to poverty, hunger,
recreation, education, family, Native and immigrant issues, and substance abuse.
Samoan case study:
Traditionally, Samoa has been a land of villages, each of which was governed by
a council of matai, or ‘sacred chiefs’.
This system survived colonization until 1962, when New Zealand became
independent and set up a parliamentary system of national government. The Samoan constitution specified that only matai (sacred chiefs) could vote and
run for office.
In 1990, the law was changed to allow all citizens to vote, but matai were still the
only ones allowed to run for office.
Does this hybrid of a Western parliamentary system and the Samoan chief
system represent an undemocratic attempt by Samoan chiefs to maintain power
within formally democratic political institutions?
An anthropologist demonstrated that the question was misleading because it
rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of how the Samoan chief system
Each matai is the head of an extended family. Each extended family is held
together by kinship connections, joint ownership of land and joint participation
Members of each extended family choose the person who will be ritually
invested with this title.
It is the job of each matai to serve his family and to elevate the reputation of his
If a matai fails to live up to these expectations, his extended family can strip him
of his title and give it to someone else.
The Samoan case study points towards different ideas about democracy:
In the West, we defend the universal suffrage since we favour a view of
democracy in whic