FGM in the Sudan

As I was doing research on what FGM was, I found some stories of girls that have gone through this “procedure.” It was not by personal choice in their cases. Female Genital Mutilation or FGM is “the partial or total removal of the female genitalia,” as described by path.org. It is also known as female circumcision. Despite being condemned by the United Nations, health professional, and human rights organizations, FGM is practiced all over the world especially in Africa, more specifically the Sudan. It was actually declared illegal in the Sudan in 1941, but has since been legalized.  An article in the Sudanese Tribune claims, almost 90 percent of northern Sudanese women have suffered through this. According to another source, that is about 14 million women and girls. Usually this ordeal is done to girls from age’s six to ten but it has been done to girls younger than that. One of the girls from the story who was forced to undergo this procedure was asked who made her get it done, her answer was her grandmother; “She said that this is something belonging to the traditions and customs and we can’t get away from it. And at that time everyone in the Sudanese society used to have this circumcision,” Aside from just the traditions of the culture, FGM also occurs in the Sudan because some believe it promotes hygiene and Sudanese men prefer women who have been circumcised. Not only does Female Genital Mutilation cause girls excruciating pain but there are also serious side effects that could occur. According to path.org, “The highest maternal infant mortality rates are in FGM- practicing regions.” Though the numbers are not exact, they believe about a third of girls who have been circumcised die due to treatment unavailability. One Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that has had a big effect on stopping FGM from happening is the Babikar Scientific Studies Association on Women Studies. They were the first NGO to try to help the fight against FGM in Sudan. While there are many who think this practice should be stopped, one Sierra Leonean anthropologist named Fuambi Ahmadu thinks that is not right. Ahmadu does not see circumcision as a barbaric act or a mutilation nor does she believe that it affects a woman’s health. He is working to try and spread his opinion and educate people on what he believes to be true about Female Genital Mutilation.






Clinical Medical Anthropology

For this week’s blog I chose to investigate Clinical Medical Anthropology as an intersection of applied medical anthropology. The field I hope to end up in some day is sports management, so none of this really relates to that. Most of the topics do not directly apply to my major of economics either, but the one that interested me the most was Clinical Medical Anthropology. I found an article that discusses the intersection of the clinical world and the anthropological world and the problems that may arise. As the lecture states, “Clinical Anthropologists are anthropologists who work with medical professionals and patients in clinical settings on ways to improve health care and management.”  They must emphasize the cultural context of an illness experience. In order to determine how to help/treat a patient a Clinical Medical Anthropologist must get to know each individual patient and not make assumptions. The article I read made gave examples on the differences of how doctors and anthropologists might think.  In one example given is a case that involves a man and his four year old son who are both HIV positive. The man’s wife died of AIDS a year earlier. Though the boy is HIV positive, his father has not brought him in for regular care. The author of the article said that while a doctor or clinician assumed “that the problem turned on a radically different cultural understanding.” On the other hand, the anthropologist determined that the issue was not due to cultural differences but rather the man’s socioeconomic situation. Through talking to him, the anthropologist was able to learn about his understanding of HIV, his low-paying job, and his late night shifts that prevented him from taking his son to get treatment. This is why it is important to take an anthropological approach to situations like this. While it is extremely important to try to learn how different cultures treat different diseases and illnesses, it is also important for them not to generalize.





Biomedicalization is defined in the lecture as the enhancement of bodies and behaviors through medical interventions. It has become more and more popular in the United States, especially through the media. Medicines and treatments have been developed to treat almost every problem or symptom a human being might face. As the lecture states, “Medicalization scholar Peter Conrad has argued that the greatest social power is the ability to diagnose someone as normal or abnormal…” People were able to gain an explanation, or in some cases, an excuse for their behaviors and a biomedical solution to their problems. One of those problems that has began to grow larger, no pun intended, is obesity. Obesity has become more and more of a problem in the United States over the last few years. Wikipedia defines obesity as “a medical condition in which excess body fat has accumulated to the extent that it may have an adverse effect on health. Leading to reduced life expectancy and/pr increased health problems.”  In our culture we accept this as a biomedical condition that can be treated. Today, the media has a great effect on why we perceive obesity as being biomedicalized. There are countless ads encouraging children to stay active and also TV shows in which the main goal is for the participants to lose as much weight as possible. Many who are obese wish to rid themselves of it by either taking pills or having major surgery done. Politicians have also given their efforts to alleviate the problem by putting restrictions on how food is cooked, like limiting the amount of fat.


Qsymia is a medication used to treat obesity aimed at chronic weight management. There are links to different areas of the website including what the drug is and how it works etc. What caught my eye was the part where it said this should be taken alongside of dieting and exercising.  To me dieting and exercising are the two most important things a person who is obese would want to do. There are lists of side effects that could occur if the pill is taken, and some are pretty serious. You must communicate with your doctor and health care provider before you take this medicine.



Biomedicine explains health in terms of biology. It emphasizes the importance of learning about body structure (anatomy) and body systems (physiology) in order to treat diseases and maintain health. The power of biomedicine comes from the belief that it is both universal and objective.  Anthropologists from the critical approach have demonstrated that biomedical knowledge is not simply a reflection of nature; it is culturally accepted and changed over time. The culture of biomedicine relates to the fact that biomedicine can be influenced by society and is not an objective science. It is one of the most influential cultural institutions in western society. That institution is made up of a system of dichotomies that are culturally constructed. Dichotomy means to be divided into two parts. In anthropology, dichotomy refers to the division between things like life and death or mind and body.

As the lecture says, and I agree, one of the most obvious dichotomies in biomedicine is the line between life and death. The concepts of life and death are very interesting and debatable. Where do you draw the line? In terms of life, the question is when does it begin? There are a number of different arguments that one can make, but to me there is no wrong answer. Personally, I believe life begins the minute a person is born out of the womb. It is hard to pinpoint where I constructed my views from, but I can say they were definitely influenced by my culture. When you celebrate your birthday, you are celebrating the day you were born or the day that your life began. Others may disagree, and say it happens before then or maybe even later in a person’s existence. On the other side of the coin is death. I believe you can pronounce someone dead when their brain and heart stop functioning and they can no longer breathe. Again, that is just my opinion and there is no wrong answer. Death can be perceived a number of different ways. Cultures throughout the world have different perception on death. I think the dichotomy of life and death is accepted in our culture because it is something every person experiences. Many have describes death as a natural part of life and I believe that to be true.



One of the links for this week’s lecture was a personal blog written by a woman who suffers from the subjective medical condition known as Fibromyalgia. She explains what she has to go through on a daily basis and how it has affected her life. On top of that, she describes how others close to her are affected by her Fibromyalgia.

As one of main drug companies selling medicine to treat the symptoms calls it, “Fibromyalgia is characterized by chronic widespread pain and tenderness for at least 3 months.” That company is Cymbalta. Fibromyalgia is not something that can be tested for making it hard to diagnose. In diagnosing Fibromyalgia, the main thing doctors focus on is the pain the patient is suffering or has suffered. After reading the woman’s blog it seems that there is a lot more to this medical condition than just pain.

The woman that is writing the blog explains how the current definition of Fibromyalgia is much too simplified and needs to be revised. She goes on to described many of the symptoms she’s had due to Fibromyalgia. There are a few too many to write all of them of down so I’ll just describe a couple. Some of her symptoms include irritable bowel syndrome, development of allergies when before none existed, flu like symptoms that may or may not last for just a day, and symptoms of a heart attack that turn out to be false.

Much like post-partum depression, Fibromyalgia can be viewed as a way for women to relieve themselves from child rearing. Others can either believe them or not. By believing that their symptoms are real and not a manifestation, others can better understand Fibromyalgia. However, by identifying the symptoms as a real thing, you may be enabling the person to create new symptoms. As I have said before doctors have a hard time diagnosing this medical condition. It seems that people that suffer from Fibromyalgia show symptoms of other medical conditions or illnesses. Doctors may prescribe a medicine that may help one or a few symptoms, but it would be hard to treat all of them at once. Cymbalta, a medicine aimed at helping people with Fibromyalgia, is mainly used to treat depression. So it seems that one thing that may be effective in curing all of the symptoms is a Placebo. The Placebo effect is that when something has no known therapeutic value actually makes people feel better. How the pill affects you is determined by your mind. I think Placebos could be way to treat people with Fibromyalgia, much like the woman who was cured of depression in the class video. If the medical condition is truly all in the person’s head then a placebo, if they believe it will work, can rid them of their condition.



Chalk Eating In Georgia

The article I choose to summarize was about a very interesting culture bound syndrome known as chalk, or kaolin, eating. Chalk eating is a specific type of Pica. As the article states Pica is “the persistent eating of non-nutritive substances.” Such substances as ice, paint chips, or in this specific case in Georgia kaolin, are ingested. Pica is commonly found in the mothers of patients have it in their childhood, along with many pregnant women in the rural areas of Georgia. This particular article focuses on the eating of kaolin, otherwise known as chalk. With the help of a colleague, they were able to interview 21 people who admitted to ingesting kaolin and discussed their findings.

Some interviews were done in person, others were on the phone. All of the people interviewed were black and only one was male. Reasons why these people chose to eat chalk varied from liking the taste, to pure cravings, to doing it because they knew others who did it. They acquired it from a number of different sources such as the store, friends, or directly from a kaolin pit. Almost all of the respondents reported that they enjoyed the taste of chalk and it did not make them sick. Fourteen of the people questioned said that they knew of others with the same habit. When asked, most of them did not know what others thought about their chalk eating. Though, this does seem to be strange in our culture. After the interview responses, I think kaolin ingestion is something driven by the mind to fulfill a desire.  The article did not discuss any treatment available for this other than the advice from a doctor to stop or limit the ingestion of chalk.

Though their data is limited, they believe that “kaolin ingestion is a form of pica that meets the DSM-IV criteria of a culture-bound syndrome.”  The only complication it may create is over-indulgence, but other than that it has shown no signs of leading to other psychopathology. The article reads that “kaolin ingestion appears to be a culturally-transmitted form of pica.”


Grigsby, Kevin R., Bruce A. Thyer, Raymond J. Waller, and George A. Johnston. “Chalk Eating in Middle Georgia: A Culture-Bound Syndrome of Pica?” Soutern Medical Journal. Southern Medival Association, Feb. 1999. Web. 20 July 2012. <http://journals.lww.com/smajournalonline/Abstract/1999/02000/Chalk_Eating_in_Middle_Georgia__A_Culture_Bound.5.aspx>.

Clown Doctors in New York

The main focus of the article is the Clown Care Unit or Clown Doctors that work in New York City hospitals in the United States. It describes who they are and what they do. Then, the article goes on to draw comparisons to western and non-western methods of healing. Other cultures in the world have used some form of a clown doctor for treating people in need. The origin of clown doctors has been traced back to shamanism. After being introduced to the general principles of these healers, we get to learn about the day in the life of the New York clown doctors. One day of work is documented from beginning to end with much detail.

In this case the Clown Doctors are the healers. Though their methods are far different from traditional western doctors, they can be very helpful to patients and their family. They begin the day by getting into costumes, which usually means donning some variation of what we know as a clown suit. Working in pairs of three they use props like puppets, bells, amongst an assortment of other wacky items. These are not doctors that heal patients through surgery, but through laughter and diversion they help heal the mind.  The article explains, “Their activities include entertaining bored children and mothers in crowded out-patient clinic waiting rooms, distracting anxious families in inner-city emergency rooms, comforting parents of children in intensive care units, and distracting small AIDS or cancer patients during painful and frightening procedures. In many ways, CCU clowns resemble shamans and traditional healers of non-Western societies.” In the story of Dr. Do More and Dr. Bobo, it describes how they go from different parts of the hospitals to cheer up children and family members. They have to be careful of any children who may react negatively or get too overexcited.

While western medicine usually focuses on healing the body, the methods of the clown doctors focus on helping the mind much like shamans. The main goal of their work is to help patients try to forget about their illness, even for just that short time they are with them. Through laughter, tricks, and games clown doctors attempt to free the mind of negativity. Though, they do not claim to cure anything. They are also no cost to the patients they assist, unlike the medical procedures that doctors and nurses conduct. The health care system in the United States has caused many issues in the recent years. Many people who need treatment are simply refused because they cannot obtain coverage.


Health is a state of physical, social, and psychological well-being within a given social, cultural, and environmental context. Sometimes we describe being healthy as eating the right foods and exercising, but I think the true definition goes beyond that. Not only does it mean to be without illness or disease, but you also have to take into account the mind. So, an illness is an unhealthy condition of the body or mind. When the body is out of homeostasis and loses some stability, it becomes ill.  The lecture slides describe illness as the human experience and perceptions of alternations in health, as informed by its broader social and cultural contexts.

I would say that a combination of things have influenced me on what I think it means to be healthy or ill. When I think of health as described by the media, I think diet and exercise. Now almost every restaurant/fast food place has a “healthy” section of the menu to try to entice people to eat at their establishment. On top of that, you cannot go a half hour without seeing an infomercial for some new workout routine that will get you in shape in no time. That’s the physical aspect of health. School has definitely had an impact of my definitions of the two. Since I can remember I have learned about the human body and how it works. Lastly, my family has played a part in my knowledge of health and illness. When I got sick as a child, my parents would take care of me depending on what my symptoms were. If it was a little more serious, I would visit a doctor.

The three conditions from the list that I chose to discuss were migraines, old age, and illness. Trying to decide whether or not migraines were an illness was probably the most difficult choice. I would have to say the migraines are an illness. People who suffer from migraines face moderate to severe headaches and nausea, which affects an individual’s well-being. Old age was the next item from the list to decide. In my opinion, old age is not an illness. For those who are lucky enough to live long enough, old age is just a natural part of life. Just like grey hair and wrinkles, getting older happens to everyone. Lastly, I would not classify poverty as an illness. Poverty means that one is lacking material things or money. Though I don’t think poverty is an illness, I think it can lead to things that would affect an individual’s well-being.

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.

Finally Going To Graduate

Hi everyone. My name is Steve Papalas. I am a fifth year senior here at Michigan State. At first I was a Mechanical Engineering student but then I changed to an Economics major half way through my junior year. Needless to say I had some catching up to do since hardly any of my past credits transferred to my new found major. I have dabbled in many of wonderful courses that this university has had to offer including a few anthropology classes. The anthropology classes I have taken were pretty interesting so I decided to take two more this summer. It also helps that theses classes fulfill my arts & letters requirements for my Economics degree. After this summer, I have one class in the fall and then I will finally be graduated. It has taken a little longer than expected, but it has been a great ride.


I used this picture of TPC Sawgrass because it is one if my favorite golf courses and I was able to play there this summer. That was an experience I will never forget.