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ANTHROP 3HI3 Study Guide - Winter 2019, Comprehensive Midterm Notes - Obstetrics, Medicalization, Human Rights


Department
Anthropology
Course Code
ANTHROP 3HI3
Professor
Dr. Rebecca Plett
Study Guide
Midterm

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ANTHROP 3HI3

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Unit 1: Anthropologies of medicine
Introduction to medical anthropology
Medical anthropologies are interested in:
o How illness is understood and experienced, theorized about, and treated
o How groups of people deal with life events like birth, illness, and death
We all experience these events in our lives
o How people conceptualize healing and those that heal
How do we understanding health, or well-being
Antecedents
Illness and healing are at the nexus of medicine and religion and must be understood in their
cultural contexts
o Why do some people believe in witchcraft, magic?
o Illness and healing bring together medicine and religion
Studies of the healing rituals of small-scale societies and indigenous healing specialists across
Africa, the Pacific, and the Americas are sources that medical anthropology drew from
o These sources described medicine's role in providing explanations for mysterious events,
and healing as a social process
E.g., Evans Pritchard picture
o Built these shelters to store their grains
o The explanation for collapsing of the shelters was witchcraft
o It was termites however they used witchcraft to describe a mysterious event just like using
witchcraft to describe illness
Attempts to explain or generalize about how diseases are caused or treated showed the
relationship between medicine and religion:
o Myth and worldview help to shape conceptions of the body and its place in nature
Myths can tell us about the creation of humans and body
o Healing can take the form of ritual
Ritual often a religious practice
o Healers as specialists whose role might overlap with shaman or priest
o Illness may be caused by magic, witchcraft or spirit possession
Development of a subdiscipline
As a subdiscipline, medical anthropology started out as the comparative study of medical systems
o Illness is understood to be caused by something and that causation will lead to seeking
medical treatment
Moved to more clinical settings and engaged with theoretical debates of the time: critical theory,
post-structuralism, gender studies, ethics, Marxism, and physical and biological anthropology
Medical anthropology has a wide range of orientations, and foci of analysis:
o Narratives, bodies, and experience:
Interpretive and meaning-centred; linking cultural or symbolic studies to illness and
healing
What symbolic thought can be used to understand healing
o Biopolitics, sociality and governmentality:
Using a Marxist lens to look at structures of power and their effects on health
o Global health:
Medicine as an applied practice of human rights and social justice
o Postcolonialism:
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Understanding violence and post-conflict interventions, humanitarianism, social
pathologies resulting from colonialism, migration and displacement, and trauma
These interests take place in highly complex contexts, including the global movement of bodies,
parts of bodies, technology, capital, drugs, etc.
o Examples:
Indian women selling kidneys for access to anti-retroviral drugs
Global movement of capital
A lot of these organs from the global north to the global south
The boom of "alternative" modes of treatment including naturopathy, osteopathy in
North America
How they understand what it means to be healthy and well
The global impact of influenza both past and present
Origins of some of these infectious diseases
Medical anthropology is also one of the most engaged fields of anthropology:
o Paul Farmer
Physician anthropologist
Partners in health - medicine has a moral obligation to provide for the poor and most
vulnerable in the world
o Nancy Scheper-Hughes
Looked at the global traffic of organs
o Robbie Davis Floyd
Models of birth, medicalization of birth
Strong advocate for midwifery in North America
An anthropology of health, healing, and illness
Idea of belief is central to both Christianity and medicine through science is understood to be
objective, neutral and areligious
o Science is objective yet belief is central to both religion and science
Scientists and policy makers benefit from having patients and the public have "correct
beliefs" about health
Education will get people to comply
Compliance is the reason why biomedical treatment works
The need for "correcting beliefs" contingent upon the medical model:
o Based on the medical model, being obese means you're not complying
o Diseases are universal biological or psychophysiological entities that result from body
dysfunction
o This produces signs that can be measured, and symptoms - the expression of the
"experience of distress"
o The task of medicine is diagnosis: interpreting symptoms, matching it to bodily signs, and
rationally treating it
What is happening to your body measurably has to match with how you're talking
about it so you can treat it rationally
o If someone has a compliant, its only medically meaningful if it reflects something wrong
with the body (something measurable)
Science is based on rationalism - so how do we make sense of cultural views of the world, body,
illness, or health that are "irrational" or "not-scientific"?
o Based on rational and logical explanations of phenomenon, bodily phenomenon and how to
treat it
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o E.g., the belief in witchcraft, especially in today's world
How can you believe that when clearly you got pneumonia from a bacteria because
someone caused in your face
This is a divide between "belief" and "knowledge":
o When something isn't rational, empirical, or objective we "believe" it exists, rather than
knowing that it does
o Associated with the unknowable or of mistaken understanding of the "natural world"
Implications of a critique of "belief" vs "knowledge":
o In medical anthropology knowledge is understood to be culturally situated and produced:
"belief" doesn't work in cross-cultural studies of health, healing, and illness
The role of science as "arbiter between knowledge and belief" is necessarily called
into question
o Culture transforms "human misery into suffering, and [counters] sickness with healing" so
we need to understand the cultural contexts in which transformation takes place
How we understand our bodies in crisis to be suffering, how we tell people we're sick,
we're well - all due to culture
How we heal sickness that's also cultural
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