Ethnomedical

If you picture an iceberg, you probably imagine a huge chunk of ice floating in frigid waters. We can think of an iceberg as a representation of culture. All the characteristics of one’s culture that we notice at first glance (such as dress, language, ethnic foods) can be related to that small part of the iceberg that lies above the water. The large mass underneath is all that we do not notice right away because our own experiences have clouded our perspective and/or they are not as obvious. Here lies all the meanings people associate with symbols in their lives, certain behaviors such as when it is polite to do certain things and what kinds of relationships are appropriate, etc. For the last anthropology class I took, I was assigned to read a book titled, “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down” by Anne Fadiman. It had an impact on how I view anthropology and the work that will be required of me as a professional. This true story follows the life of a Hmong girl, living with her family in California, and her struggle with epilepsy. Her life is constantly threatened by cross cultural miscommunication and even the lack of communication entirely. Although language barriers can be an issue, the most challenging situations involve conflicts in belief and way of life.

Even when we think we are being objective, we carry assumptions about the correct ways to live. In the United States, we strongly confide in science and biomedicine. Not all cultures share this value. When asked to choose an approach, I had to go with the ethnomedical approach. It takes into account the varied ways in which individuals describe health models as well as, “how individuals decide when they are sick and the help they seek out,” (according to lecture 1.2). Successful health plans and studies of populations cannot be put into place without taking into account the values instilled in people. When it comes down to it, who is to say who is right or wrong in this world? We are all so deeply affected by our histories.

The distinction between disease and illness is entirely cultural. In the US, although they are not clearly cut, I think we view a disease as being a long-term sickness and illness as a way of categorizing all periods of being “unwell”. Again, it depends on who you ask.

I did not catch onto the truth of the Nacirema article for quite a while. As I was trying to figure out what to write, I glanced over the other blogs and realized how subjective I had been. Although I thought I was keeping an open mind, I didn’t relate it to our own culture.

Now that i know the truth behind the article, I thought one interesting point was about the human body being ugly. As I read this the first time, I thought, “that’s interesting because we enhance our own bodies to look more natural and human than ever.” Now I feel so naive and American to have thought that. We constantly cover ourselves with make-up, cut and style our hair, and wear clothes that emphasize certain parts of our bodies while hiding others. I also liked the part about the shrines we keep in our houses. This represents our reliance on science and our obsession with quick, easy solutions to all of our problems. The hospital visits description is also interesting because it points out how we value their services so much while we fear them perhaps even more. This goes along with our tendency to place responsibility on someone else when trying to find solutions to our problems, no matter what the cost may be.

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