Clinical Medical Anthropology

I think that clinical medical anthropology is essential for helping patients and professional staff understand each other.  The fact that clinical anthropologist act as a cultural mediator not as a whole but from an individual perspective makes treatment much more effective.  I feel that understanding a person’s personal experience with an illness is very important in providing a treatment regimen that will be the most effective.  Of course there are downfalls, such as the tendency to stereotype, but I feel that overall the methods used are necessary to understand cultural beliefs and their impact on medicine.

As a clinician, having a cultural understanding would allow for better communication to the patient.  I think some of the best examples of this were made in the Tribal Jazzman Scholar video.  The examples that he used are great ways to show that knowing more about the culture in an area can make an impact on the approach used to fix an outstanding problem.  Another great example is talked about in the lecture.  The HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa has had a huge cultural impact. If epidemiologists and doctors could find a better way to communicate to women that breastfeeding is hurting their children and that by not breastfeeding they are being a good parent things may be drastically different.  They also need to find a way for them to provide nutrition for their children that is safer for them.

I remember watching a documentary that talked about how they were able to communicate to different tribes in Africa the importance of family planning.  In these tribes the girls are married very young and the problem is that they become pregnant at too young of an age and it causes major health issues.  The clinicians and anthropologists were able to talk to the men and women about birth control.  The men like the idea because it kept their wives healthy and also allowed them to be able to control the sizes of families so they were better able to support them.  This is just an example of how with the right communication, change can be possible.


The culture of biomedicine is how the medical system interacts with the culture and how it is in turn influenced by the culture at large. This relationship is very important to understand because it has a great influence on how the medical system works within our culture, and therefore how we have access to and get treatment in the biomedical system.

I choose the dichotomy of male vs. female. My own person view is quite broad when it comes to the definition of what makes someone a male or a female, a man or a woman, and even a mother or a father. I think my own personal views were developed during my adolescent years, where I embraced a much more liberal and open view than I had been previously exposed to. I became very tolerant and excepting of all people, I think the fact that I went to a very small, somewhat racist high school, caused me to go the complete opposite direction on how I defined social roles, particularly gender roles.

I think that people use nature as an excuse to have very narrow roles on the view of sex vs. gender. They often do not take in account that when it comes to nature, really there are many different sexes, not just male and female. Like what was mentioned in lecture, there are hermaphrodites, people with XXX, XXY chromosomes, and many other combinations. In the past these people were seen as abnormal or irregular, but with the increase of medical knowledge and genetics, it is my hope that these people will be seen as just another form of a natural biological sex. And also, hopefully these people will not be forced to choose to confine themselves to one gender role, to have to pick if they are a girl or a boy, if they do not want to make the distinction. I think as we learn more about genetics, sex and gender roles will both become broader and more inclusive.

Life/ Death

The phrase “culture of medicine” is difficult to strictly define, since it is made up of many different things. The main idea behind the “culture of medicine,” however, is that biomedical practices vary across cultures, and these differences can be studied by learning about the history, language, and rituals behind those practices. This, according to lecture 5.1 will help anthropologists learn how biomedical facts and models have changed over time, social values that have become natural or scientific, and has also helped to reveal different customs of both patients and professionals living in different societies. This means that the culture of biomedicine has to be both universal and objective, or in other words, it has to reflect nature and fact. Finally, we must also consider something we have been reminded of over and over throughout this course- health is not only influenced by biology, but also through culture, politics, environment, and individual choice.

The dichotomy I chose to evaluate was that of life and death. According to the Merriam- Webster dictionary and the lecture, life can be defined in many ways. These including “the quality that distinguishes a vital and function being from a dead body,” “an organismic state characterized by capacity for metabolism, growth, reaction to stimuli, and reproduction,” or “a principle or force that is considered to underlie the distinctive quality of animate beings (Mariamm- Webster).” I believe that life is a combination of many different “definitions” and that there is no clear one that stands out. Taking a look at the definitions of death from the Marriam- Webster dictionary, there are also many perpectives. Some of these include “a permanent cessation of all vital functions,” or “the cause or occasion of loss of life.” After comparing these words, life and death, it is difficult to say whether death is when the brain dies, the body dies, or when the person takes their last breath; like the lecture asks. If I had to define human death, I would have to say a person is dead when they stop breathing, all the cells in the body are dead, and the body/brain is no longer functioning.

I believe that this dichotomy is accepted as both logical and natural. Although death can be difficult to face, it is a natural bodily process that must occur. I am sure throughout many different cultures, there are many different cultural and spiritual debates on what death really is, but logic takes over and people know when someone has died. Life, also highly debated, is an amazing thing that is very difficult to place a definition on. Life and death have been debated for a long time, and I do not see that debate ending anytime soon.




Lecture 5.1


I believe the culture of biomedicine to be a focus on medicine and health care from a biological perspective. So far in anthropology we have weighed the culture, politics, and economy of different people and its effect of health and medicine. Learning more about biology and the anatomy of health is very important. The think I like most about anatomy is that is understood universally. Culture does not affect the structure of the body or the physiology of body functions. The way we perceive or believe these functions to happen may differ but the actions and features of the body do not differ.

I struggle with identifying with dichotomies because a lot of the time I do not see things so simply divided and “clear-cut”. In terms of biology though we use dichotomies to classify organisms. There are eukaryotic and prokaryotic organisms. There are vertebrates and invertebrates. Although I understand the simplicity of this I believe that a clear distinction is not always possible. My differing views come from my parents’ views. My mom is very straightforward and something is right or wrong, black or white, or gay and straight, as other students have mentioned. Her views are a direct reflection of her parents are their tradition upbringing her. My Dad is very different and every situation she approaches there are multiple solutions and answers to the question. He sees how the lines can be blurred and can intertwine.

We talked about a very simple dichotomy of life and death in class and I wanted to focus on that.  I found this one very interesting because it can be approached from the idea that someone has a heartbeat or none and is pronounced dead. A person can also be mentally or spiritually alive. Although they may be approaching physical death they are very much alive in spirit and mental capacity. The opposite to that is if someone is alive and healthy, but would be considered dead in spirit or mentally in a coma. My grandma for example is approaching eighty-three and to me she is more “alive” than some of my friends. She is so upbeat and full of joy and seems nowhere near death although she is aging.

I think out society is assuming aging means death and lack of life. The elderly seem to be pushed to the side and not recognized for the life they’ve lived and continue to live.

Does being medicated enhance the quality of life?

The culture of biomedicine are the beliefs people put meaning to and trust in as sources of understanding their own health in context to our values, language, rituals, and political and societal structures. It has had an important stake in health and illness as the learned knowledge of biomedicine helps to build a solid foundation for the building blocks of a logical truth. Medication does definitely enhance people’s lives. When coming down with a flu or cold, antibiotics do just the trick in a timely manner. However, when it comes down to illnesses such as ADHD, medication in the long run can definitely be a toss up.

Due to the fact that biomedicine is based upon true logical facts, it only makes sense that the treatment process be true and lifelike in it’s form and cure. Thus, the idea and process of taking medication becomes a placebo in itself in which one can think, “by taking this medicine I will feel better.” That in itself can make medication a good starting block for people to see results in their treatment process.

Medication is now a normal process to help many people through their day. Illness has now become a part of our daily lives, and the pharmaceutical industry as well as the companies that pay off the doctors to help sell their products, deeper instill these new ideas of illness. Definitely not to say that patients and/or consumers believe everything that they hear and see, but it proves as a sort of validation or confirmation for many who are patients-in-waiting. By possessing even one or two of these symptoms, informed patients-in-waiting can easily think they have these symptoms and therefore the illness. Due to it’s heavily science-based nature, biomedicine will always thrive on medication as a treatment process. The only way to prove a logical question is to provide a logical answer.

Gay vs. Straight

Just like any other cultural institution, biomedicine can be observed and described using an anthropological view. The point is not to say which culture-specific medical systems are correct or incorrect. Rather, it is to draw comparisons, describe, and understand those systems. Biomedicine is just one type of medical system, and is used to refer to the structure in place here in the U.S. As described in the first lecture of this week’s materials, this is an important concept because it describes how we study one aspect of societies objectively.

Dichotomies are prevalent in every society. There are very simple and universal dichotomies, such as day/night, light/dark, or hot/cold. There are also more unique dichotomies, not only in the way they are termed but in what they represent. Women/man varies form culture to culture, as well as good/bad, right/wrong, or healthy/sick. How one describes the differences and similarities between two ends of a dichotomy varies according to the views they were taught and the lifestyles they have experienced. In the U.S., there is a pretty common distinction between gay vs. straight. Many people have trouble understanding anything in between, and therefore get frustrated with people who explore the world in between the two terms. Although it is becoming more accepted to be gay or bisexual, I think that the dichotomy is still a pretty clear one in our culture. In other cultures, it isn’t always referred to in the same way. Sexual acts between two males or two females aren’t always taken as seriously and categorized but can be more casual and not hold as much meaning. It is interesting to see how gender roles and distinctions between the sexes are viewed in different cultures.

I do believe that dichotomies are sort of innate in human nature. They are all around us, for one. It is very easy to draw distinctions between things such as night and day. At the same time, when approaching concepts that are more embedded in culture, we cannot say that the actual terms or meanings are completely natural. It is obvious that they vary across the world. The actual existence of dichotomies, though, is inevitable and instinctual in my opinion. You are born with the ability to compare things. The way you compare things depends on your surroundings and experiences. It is almost important to remember that the extremity of the use of dichotomies can vary from one culture to the next.


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.



The culture of biomedicine is important because it explains health in terms of biology. It emphasis the importance of learning about body structure or anatomy It involves the study of body systems and physiology. It focuses on biology and the body in order to treat diseases and maintain health. Biomedicine is also important because according to the “Claim of Universality” biomedicine is a direct reflection of nature and is a representation of a universal truth.

I chose to focus my post of the dichotomy of life and death. I find this dichotomy to be most interesting and complex at the same time. Within western culture there appears to be no in between, a person is either. However, I find it interesting that western society tries to classify every aspect of being dead or alive. For example, when someone is in a coma some people believe the person is in this deep sleep they may never wake up even though their heart is still bringing. Some people people even feel that patients that are in comas are declared dead all ready because they cannot bring on their on and they are hooked up to a machine or they may be brain dead.

In our society  some people associate healthy and functional brain activity with being alive and not dead. However, I do not believe that just because a person can not function normally in our society or is in a coma that makes them dead. There is still a chance that the person may wake up out of the coma. People who have autism and who are handicap do not function like normal people. They require special needs and attention to survive in the world and to live. They may have limited brain activity and not much control over there actions, but they are still living people. Some people look at handicap people and say they cannot imagine being able to live their life like that. Life is what you make it given your situation. There are people in the world that live with brain disorders, half a brain, and brain damage but they are still living life the best way they can for themselves.

Living life means more than just having a brain. I think in our society we have to take in question what does it mean to be really alive. In the medical community and in western culture there is a constant emphasis on the brain a s the root to the entire function of the body. It seems like the medical field has created mostly everything to increase and promote ones chances of living a healthy life. We have blood transfusions, artificial hearts that people can get today. However, when it comes to  brain transplants there is no such thing. When a person is brain dead in our society that is usually the end of the line of their life and at this point nothing else can be done for them. The dichotomy of life and death is accepted as logical and natural in western society because there are clear distinctions of what being alive and dead means. Death is accepted in western culture because it is a part a life that everyone will go through and experience.


By culture of biomedicine we mean that we are looking at biomedicine from an anthropological standpoint.  Biomedicine is the major authoritative system that people use for treatment in western culture.  It uses scientific and biological factors, like genetics and physiology, to treat disease and illness on the belief that it operates on what is truth.  The culture of biomedicine has been studied by looking at its history, its language, and the rituals observed.  An example of this is when a person feels sick they go to the doctor for a diagnosis, and then they receive a prescription for treatment.  Of course there are non-biological factors like politics, individual choice, and environment also have a role in health and disease.

I think dichotomies are necessary to have full understanding of health and illness in biomedicine.  The doctor/patient dichotomy is necessary to show that each has their role.  The patient seeks the doctor for help in treating their illness.  The patient expects the doctor to make a diagnosis when they feel something is not right.  This is because in western society, we see doctors as being so much greater than the standard citizen. This is also the case in many cultures, where the healer has a higher social standing within the society.

In today’s society there is often an overlap in which the patient becomes the doctor, so to speak.  With access to the internet and through television, people feel that they have the ability to “self diagnosed”, which can in turn lead to over medication.  This leads back to the point made where people expect a prescription when receiving a diagnosis from their health care professional.  As mentioned in the lecture video, media outlets and propaganda can have significant impacts on medicine.  People can get on a website, check off their symptoms, and get a list of things that could possibly be wrong with them, like the Medicalization of Menstruation video demostrates with PMDD.


Biomedicine is a big part of western culture, and is thought very highly of. Even inside the biomedical system, physicians and other practitioners have a culture of their own. As it showed in lecture there are certain ways rites of passage that medical school students must go through in order to be included in the culture. Procedures must be conducted in certain ways, and there is even different medical terminology that physicians use, that other people would not. They form their own systems within a hospital, and status is given to people who work there. I think it’s important to have culture of biomedicine because it makes patients and visitors more trustworthy of their physicians because they know it’s so much work for them to even get in to medical school. I also think this could go against the patients because they might not be able to understand what their physician means, and might have to have the doctor explain in a way that they will understand. I definitely think trust plays a big role.

I think dichotomy’s are culturally constructed and definitely depend on your beliefs. With the dichotomy of life/death, it is easy for some people to believe in this, but for others its not so easy because not all cultures believe in death. Some cultures believe that you never die, and that your soul just cycles through into life again. In western culture, I think this dichotomy is seen as natural because people believe that these two are opposites. I think the words are easy to use, even though they might have different meanings to people. Even if someone thinks that the soul lives on after someone passes away, they still say that the person has died, but their soul will live on. This has to do with another dichotomy of mind/body.