Ethno-Medical Approach

I chose the ethno-medical approach because it focuses on how different cultures define and/or treat a certain disease or illness. One of the most important aspects of anthropology to me is learning the ways of the culture or society that you are studying. Different cultures have different belief systems meaning not every culture has the same definition of an illness or disease. Using the ethno-medical approach, an anthropologist is able to learn the society’s definitions of illness and disease, which helps him or her to understand why some things are classified as an illness and others are not. My definition of illness is probably very different from how someone in a third world country would describe it. Another interesting aspect to the ethno-medical approach is seeing how an illness or disease is treated in each society.

As defined by the lecture slides, diseases are outward clinical manifestations of altered physical function or infection. An illness is the human experience and perceptions of alternations in health, as informed by its broader social and cultural contexts. Distinguishing the two from one another can be a difficult thing. To me the differences between the two are in length and severity. To me an illness is something that is less severe and only effects the individual for a short period of time such as the common cold. A disease is something that is permanent or semi-permanent and more severe such as cancer.

Having already read this article in a previous anthropology class I already knew that the culture Miner was talking about was that of Americans. The first time I read the article it dawned on me that the medicine men and holy-mouth-men were just doctors and dentists. Then I realized that Nacirema was American spelled backwards.

One ritual that is discussed in the Nacirema article is visiting the “holy-mouth-men” twice a year. It describes this as an “almost unbelievable ritual of torture of the client.” Miner is describing the bi-annual visits most Americans make to their dentist in order to maintain healthy teeth/gums. To other cultures this may seem strange but to Americans this is quite normal. Another ritual described in the article was the ceremonies of the lapisto. The lapistos that every community has refer to hospitals. The article talks about the nurses and doctors that work there and the uniforms they must wear. One interesting thing is when it describes people who go there willing and eager to be treated, but won’t be treated unless they can afford it. In other words, if they don’t have health insurance they may not be properly treated. The listener also plays a prominent role in the Nacirema culture. “This witch-doctor has the power to exorcise the devils that lodge in the heads of people who have been bewitched.” The listener represents a psychiatrist. People go to see psychiatrist to help them deal with or solve issues they are dealing with.

2 thoughts on “Ethno-Medical Approach

  1. I chose the Biological Approach because I felt that it covers almost every aspect of mankind; the environment, genetics, and individual choice. Thus, the Biological approach was more logical for me. For example, if a person has diabetes, then you would research their environment. Was their neighborhood a poverty stricken area? Does diabetes run in their family? Do they have access to healthy food and if they are, are they making healthy choices instead of non-healthy choices?

    I discovered the same thing when reading the article. I found it quite clever that they were talking about Americans because I did not realize this right off hand. I interpreted the rituals the same way you did. The “holy-mouth-men” are the dentists that Americans go to annually for various oral maintenance. The lapisto is describing various hospitals in the community. Though, I did not pick up on the insurance part of it. Lastly, “the listener” is describing a psychologist is used to help people solve problems in their lives.

    If I could update these rituals, I would change them to an American’s point of view and state why they are important looking from an American’s point of view. I would describe why these things are important to American health.

  2. Steve,

    I had trouble deciding between the ethnomedical approach and the biological approach. I understand why you chose the ethnomedical because defining and treating diseases and illnesses, and understanding differences in cultures, is a very important aspect when it comes to studying health. In the end, I ended up chosing the biological approach because I believe it is important to study where a disease originates and to gain as much insight as possible to determine if the disease is curable or preventable. Genetics and genetic variation play a large roll in the passing of disease/ illness and stopping a disease from spreading, and helping those already infected, would be most important to me. Overall, though, I believe that health is too broad of a subject to be approached in only one way.
    In your analysis of the article you pointed out the rituals of going to the dentist, the hospital, and a psychiatrist. Americans place large value on physical health, mental health, and aesthetics. Some new rituals that could be added to represent current values and ideologies that other cultures may find absurb are things like tanning, teeth whitening, botox (and other plastic surjuries), hair dying, etc. Activities like tanning are potentially very bad for health, including the risk of skin cancer, but many Americans still actively participate.

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