Biological Approach

I picked the biological approach as the most useful in studying medical anthropology and health. It is difficult to pick a single approach to this field, because all of the approaches discussed in the video lecture (biological, ecological, ethnomedical, critical, and applied) seem to have their own merit and own benefits. I chose the biological approach because it encompasses a person’s genetic makeup, environment, and personal health choices as contributing factors to health.  All of these factors greatly impact health. A person’s genetics is important as related to what they have inherited, as well as the relation of certain diseases to a gene or set of genes. Environment complements a person’s genetic makeup and can impact health either positively or negatively. Lastly, a person’s own choices regarding their health are a huge factor, especially when considering “risky” health behaviors such as drug use.

The distinction between disease and illness is not obvious to me. As working definitions for this class, disease is the outward clinical sign of altered physical function, while illness is a person’s experience and perception of their health. I feel that both disease and illness are seen through a cultural context; their uses and definitions depend on the practices of the surrounding culture.

In his article about the Nacirema culture, Miner is discussing the American culture. I really didn’t realize this until I read the article a second time, and now it seems perfectly clear! It’s interesting to re-read his article and pick up the references I didn’t before.

One ritual in the Nacirema article is the use of the box or chest built into the wall of the family’s shrine. I think here Miner is referring to a medicine cupboard or bathroom cabinet, in which the family places “charms” from “medicine men”, or in other words pharmaceuticals and other supplements from physicians.  This could tell us that the culture is obsessed with avoiding illness and feels the need for special potions to do so. Another ritual Miner discusses is that medicine men decide what the ingredients in the curative potions should be, but do not provide them directly to clients. Similarly, patient doesn’t receive medication directly from a physician, but generally gets it from a pharmacist. This shows that the culture allows only a few individuals to hold the “secret” medical knowledge, and that a person must visit many to remain healthy. Lastly, Miner discusses the refusal of the person to dispose of the charm after its use. This shows the somewhat paranoid attitude of the culture, in which the person assumes they will be ill again at some point, but isn’t always comfortable using the particular charm again.

1 thought on “Biological Approach

  1. Kayli,
    I definitely agree that the biological approach would be helpful in studying medical anthropology, however, I selected the experiential approach. Culture is very complex and near impossible to study by simply looking at biological factors. For example, I think it would be very difficult to understand something as culturally and socially defined as eating disorders by looking only at ones genetic makeup. Never the less, I think all of the approaches offer some great value to the study of medical anthropology.
    Had the Nacirema article been written more recently, I think we would see some changes in the rituals that are performed and the values portrayed. For example, I think that Miner might have included something to do with weight loss products along with the medicine in the cabinets. Our country seems to have become obsessed with weight and appearance. We spend billions of dollars a year trying to achieve the “perfect figure” He might have added something about stepping on a scale or feeling shame and guilt after eating too much in a meal. Miner may have even included something about exercise rituals, or lack there of. I also think that Americans have become increasingly addicted to technology, like cell phones and computers, and their constant usage would most likely be another ritual added to the article.

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