As a student interested in Healthcare Economics I think that the ecological approach to anthropology would be most useful to me in my study of health. The ecological approach takes many facets into consideration when examining health such as the interactions between humans, plants & animals, culture, natural resources, and political economy. Most human issues, at least the most pressing ones are complex and involve many determinants.
Disease and illness are issues that vary person to person and across populations depending on the interaction of the various facets anthropology examines. It is definitely useful to examine what we mean by the terms disease and illness. Our language in surrounding these terms hints at the cultural and psychological approach different people have towards health and wellness. So and so is “diseased” is different from he or she “has a disease”; the latter describes something one possesses while the former is defining someone with a disease. “I feel ill” is different than “I am ill” with one being subjective and the other being rather more objective, respectively. While many people overlook these distinctions wryly as mere semantics but language, terminology and definitions are important to reach a critical understanding. Disease and illness are distinguished in terms of direction; disease is an outward manifestation generally of physical structure/function, while illness is an inner human experience/perception of the change in health and largely depends on the sociocultural context. As someone who needs to be applied and practical in my line of work that is the economics and management of healthcare it’s easy to forget about subjective or qualitative experience and be immersed in quantities, facts and figures. I certainly see the difference and while it may not be obvious at first it is certainly clear when examined.
The Nacerima article was a great article that examined American medicine as an outsider not immersed in its cultural context. I myself have wondered what future civilizations would make sense of our remnants during their archeological excavations of cities such as Manhattan and D.C. Most things besides the colossal and stone structures would not be around several thousand years from now; how would they make sense of the Superdome, Washington Monument, and Mt. Rushmore? Would they be able to distinguish them from Coliseums, the Great Pyramids, or the Sphyinx? I was able to tell that Miner was describing America when I read about the chopping down of a cherry tree. I was able to use my understanding of American Culture to make sense of the rituals he described. The way hospitals are described as though they are temples is very fitting. Many people try to use medical knowledge to obtain some sort of idealized body image reminiscent of a stone sculpture of a Greco-Roman god or goddess. In our times these can be seen between the glossy pages of popular magazines and late night surfing through television channels. The shamanistic description of drug use makes me think of how primal our behaviors are even with such profound advances in technology. While our hunter gatherers may have come across magic plants in the rainforest along the Amazon many in our times score drugs in concrete jungles between Bourbon and Canal street.