What is Medical Anthropology?

1. Overview of the Topic – Summary:

From Wikipedia: Medical Anthropology studies “human health and disease, health care systems, and biocultural adaptation”. It views humans from multidimensional and ecological perspectives. It is one of the most highly developed areas of anthropology and applied anthropology, and is a subfield of social and cultural anthropology that examines the ways in which culture and society are organized around or influenced by issues of health, health care and related issues.

The term “Medical Anthropology” has been used since 1963 as a label for empirical research and theoretical production by anthropologists into the social processes and cultural representations of health, illness and the nursing/care practices associated with these.[1]

2. What is the focus of this Topic?:

From Wikipedia: Currently, research in Medical Anthropology is one of the main growth areas in the field of anthropology as a whole and important processes of internal specialization are taking place. For this reason, any agenda is always debatable. In general, we may consider the following six basic fields:

  • the development of systems of medical knowledge and medical care
  • the patient-physician relationship
  • the integration of alternative medical systems in culturally diverse environments
  • the interaction of social, environmental and biological factors which influence health and illness both in the individual and the community as a whole
  • the critical analysis of interaction between psychiatric services and migrant populations (“critical ethnopsychiatry”: Beneduce 2004, 2007)
  • the impact of biomedicine and biomedical technologies in non-Western settings

Other subjects that have become central to the medical anthropology worldwide are violence and social suffering as well as other issues that involve physical and psychological harm and suffering that are not a result of illness.

3. Why it’s listed here – What is the relevance to Architectural Medicine?

As is listed in the above agenda items, Medical Anthropology considers, “the interaction of social, environmental and biological factors which influence health and illness both in the individual and the community as a whole.” As Architectural Medicine is focused on Health in the Built Environment, the processes and concerns of Medical Anthropology have common ground.

With the main focus of Anthropology as, “the scientific study of humans, human behavior and societies in the past and present.”[2] , the facet of Medical Anthropology includes the cultural developments that include the built environments, and how these environments impact human health.

This topic is also relative to the Architectural Doctor and the Healthy Building Inspector, as both are focused on expanding issues of health to the built environment. With Architectural Medicine working to provide the Doctor’s/Clinician’s scope to include the built environment in evaluation, the approach of Medical Anthropology includes this larger view of health. Due to Medical Anthropology’s focus of “social, environmental and biological factors which influence health and illness”, this statement of focus includes the built environment and as such coincides with a main objective of Architectural Medicine.

4. Common groups and individuals involved with this topic:

The relationship between anthropology, medicine and medical practice is well documented. [3] General anthropology occupied a notable position in the basic medical sciences (which correspond to those subjects commonly known as pre-clinical).[4]

For much of the 20th century, the concept of popular medicine, or folk medicine, has been familiar to both doctors and anthropologists. Doctors, anthropologists and medical anthropologists used these terms to describe the resources, other than the help of health professionals, which European or Latin American peasants used to resolve any health problems.[4] All medical anthropologists are trained in anthropology as their main discipline. Many come from the health professions such as medicine or nursing, whereas others come from the other backgrounds such as psychology, social work, social education or sociology. Cultural and transcultural psychiatrists are trained as anthropologists and, naturally, psychiatric clinicians.[5]

A fairly comprehensive account of different postgraduate training courses in different countries can be found on the website of the Society of Medical Anthropology of the American Anthropological Association.[6]

5. Resources: