This week’s materials were interesting for me, because I’ve never really taken time to consider the culture of biomedicine before. As was discussed in the lectures, we don’t really see biomedicine as having a culture, because we view at is the scientific truth. We sometimes see it as both universal and objective, but it really is a reflection of our culture as a society. Part of the culture of biomedicine is its history. As stated in the lecture materials, it is a healthcare system that is culturally constructed and amended over time, as with the implementation of germ theory. Additionally, it holds beliefs about dichotomies, uses rituals and symbols, and involves rites of passage on a regular basis. A recent trend in the culture of biomedicine is biomedicalization, where medical intervention is used to enhance the body and behavior. I think it’s important to have an understanding of the culture of biomedicine because it helps put our medical system into perspective when compared to other medical systems.

I think dichotomies are an important concept in biomedicine. They could have arisen over time out of a need to compare and contrast in the medical field. For example, it’s hard to classify something as “healthy” if there is no opposite term like “ill”. Dichotomies help us describe and explain these concepts. However, although they appear black and white at first glance, I feel that dichotomies always have a gray area that is not always taken into account. It’s hard and usually inaccurate to classify something as mutually exclusive of the other.

The dichotomy of male/female is interesting to me because it seems so socially and culturally constructed. As discussed in the lecture materials, some cultures do not draw such distinct lines between male and female, and some don’t recognize any line at all. In my opinion, the male/female dichotomy can be described in terms of sex and gender. Sex is the chromosomes we are born with (although there is some gray area here too, as some individuals are not just XY or XX). Our gender is male or female depending on how we feel and act within a certain culture and society; however, our gender is often assigned to us based on the nature of genitalia. I think there is a lot of room for gray area here too, as gender roles and the male/female dichotomy don’t really allow for hermaphrodites, inter-sexed individuals, etc. This dichotomy is accepted as logical and easy to interpret by some because it’s easy to only looks at a person’s biological appearance and genetic make-up and label them as either male or female.

Life and Death

The ‘culture of biomedicine’, the culture within the biomedical system, the most prominent and relied on of the western society, is a combination of three things: History – how medicine and theories have evolved over time shaping what the culture of biomedicine is today and how we feel about it; The language of biomedicine – how we incorporate social values into medicine (illness narratives, etc); And the rituals or symbols of biomedicine – the sterilization, techniques, & uniforms used in hospitals/operating rooms, or the hospital being seen as a place for healing, a prison, factory, school, and/or a mini village.  These things disprove the common misconception that culture does not exist within, or influence biomedicine. The critical approach is used to do this and to show how biomedicine is a ‘part’ of western culture, rather than the whole.  One of the biggest of these misconceptions is the belief that biomedicine is an objective science autonomous from culture, when in fact it is one of the most influential institutions in western society.

I believe cultural influences play an important role in dichotomies.  Also a major contributor is, one’s education (the level, type, area, etc). Both influence the way one thinks, and views the world, and therefore how they may classify or analyze certain dichotomies.  In my opinion, being someone who sees the world in various shades of grey (nothing is black or white!) many dichotomies are hard to analyze and may be seen as controversial.  Most things do not belong in one category or another, and often there is need for a little wiggle room when dealing with such issues.  Also, these are typically based on an individual belief rather than some universal definition. Trying to convince someone to believe another way is often quite difficult.

Although it may be the obvious choice, I chose to discuss the dichotomy of Life & Death.  At first glance, it seems very simple and straightforward.  Either you’re dead or you are alive, right?  But, as discussed earlier, nothing is black or white, and our society seems to have a particular obsession with this dichotomy.  It is so ingrained in our culture, it causes major controversies, and is even part of our politics.  With all the new technology and research constantly being done, it’s easy to see why that is. The lines between life and death seem to become messier by the minute.  In my opinion, life is much easier to define than death is.  Life, as debatable as this may be, begins when a fetus can survive outside its mother’s womb (somewhere around 24wks).  Death, on the other hand, is often measured as when someone needs life support to survive, but I think I lean more towards once they are brain dead. I honestly don’t know, it’s so hard to tell and is really dependent on personal opinion and experiences.  Because of these differing opinions and definitions, the varying ways of analyzing, and other discrepancies, this dichotomy as well as others are accepted by western society as logical, natural, and true, even when contradicting each other.


The “culture of biomedicine” implies that the concept of biomedical practices is not solely based on facts alone. The practices performed in Western medicine are not independent of cultural influence. In fact, many of the rituals practiced in places such as hospitals are largely influenced by Western beliefs on health and medicine. This is an important concept because it explains how health disparities are viewed, how people experience health within the Western culture and the reasons behind the treatment and medical remedies prescribed to treat illness. An example of how culture has influence over biomedicine can be seen in the surgery room. In the article, “Rituals in the Operating Room: Are they Necessary?” the everyday rituals observed in the operating room are examined closely in terms of cultural belief and practices. One ritual analyzed is the use of masks while operating on a patient. It is believed that the masks protect the patient’s wounds from being infected by bacteria coming from the mouth and nose of surgical team.  A test was conducting to measure the infection rate dispersed from the surgical staff and the patient being treated.  The test concluded that the CFUs observed within the air surrounding the patient from those without masks did not show a significant difference than from those wearing masks . This is just one of the ways that cultural beliefs affect the rituals observed in patient care.

I believe that dichotomies arose from the need of contrast for explanation and conformation. Dichotomies are used to validate that something is real because it possesses an opposite. In the culture of biomedicine, dichotomies were needed in order to explain certain principles of the life such as life and death and mind and body. It gave separation so that each factor is easier to understand. My personal take on dichotomy is that it can be seen as a positive and negative thing. The positive side is that it does allow for the basic understanding of each element. For example, for a person that does not have extensive medical knowledge, understanding the principles of death  and what it means to be dead allows for a greater understanding of what it means to be alive. However, a negative side effect to this is that is doesn’t allow for much grey area such as in the understanding of male and female. Setting two set genders as the basis for all life does not give room for cultural interpretation, intersexed individuals, hermaphrodites, and other non-gender specific identifications.

I believe that the dichotomy of male and female is highly accepted and seen as logical in Western society because there is a scientific explanation for it. It is strongly believed that if you can test for it then there is validity in the results. Sex is defined as the biological identification of an individual as male or female. Therefore, if a person has ovaries and a uterus then by definition that person is a woman biologically. This means that society can then function normally by prescribing this individual gender roles to follow. This takes apart all cultural understanding and interpretation of gender and just group sex and gender together. This also relates back to the idea of contrast for validation. The opposite of male is female so the sex male must be true because it has an opposite to oppose it. This allows for simple understanding and validity.


Biomedicine plays a huge role in western culture and is considered the dominant form of medicine. It has become so important and influential because it is evidence based and explains health in the terms of biology. The culture of biomedicine is established by the culture studies of biomedicine including institutional history, language of biomedical facts, and the rituals of biomedicine such as in the clinic. In this context, social values are conceptualized as natural or scientific. Biomedicine is also culturally constructed because it is not objective but rather based on biology and fact. Our culture is socially bound through biomedicine because it determines if a person is mentally stable enough to be a contributing member of society or not.

I feel that most dichotomies have unclear boundaries and many grey areas. I find the life/death dichotomy the most interesting from a social stand point because it seems as though life and death are two polar opposites that should be easy to distinguish, but under further evaluation this is not the case.  You would presume that someone is either dead or alive, however the cultural implications of life and death determine this. Life is measured in ways that are influence by culture, our legal system, and politics. There are many discrepancies on when life begins; at conception, in the womb, or during birth. Death is also just as uncertain. If you rely on a respirator to breath, use a feeding tube, or are brain dead, you may be legally alive, but for all intensive purposes considered dead by society. From my perspective, life begins after the first trimester of pregnancy, and death occurs when either someone’s heart stops beating or they take their last breath. I think my ideals about life and death have formed as a result of the media and politics. There is much debate between pro-life and pro-choice, but ultimately life to me is established by the second trimester. Society may consider someone unresponsive as dead, but when it is a member of your family, this does not necessarily correlate with your definition of death.

Dichotomy is accepted as natural, logical, and true in western society because so many discrepancies exist between them and the definitions of their components are socially and culturally defined. There are no direct translations of life and death or any dichotomy for that matter from person to person, and our views on dichotomies are culturally formed and dependent.

Dichotomy between doctor/patient

The term “Culture of biomedicine” is very important because anthropologically speaking it reminds us that this is indeed a culture. Although biomedicine is the norm in western cultures and thus easily confused with “standard” or “correct” it is important to remember that it is not the most widely used form of medicine in all cultures of the world. Another reason why this is an important concept is because biomedicine really is its own entity which has grown and evolved over time alongside scientific advances. It has also been hard because all of the radical advances of biomedicine, society has had to grow in order to accommodate and regulate such newfound biological knowledge and power. When advances surpass what society is capable of regulating then unfortunate events such as the Tuskegee study result.


I chose the dichotomy between a doctor and his or her patient because in our western culture this is akin to the dichotomy between a mechanic and a car. We view the body as a machine to be fixed and improved and because of this, our doctors are seen as the “healers” that fix what is damaged or wrong with our body. Many westerners view the body as a completely physiological entity free of concepts such as a soul or spirit which are popular in other cultures. Increasingly popular, more than fixing what is perceived to be wrong, doctors improve what patients are not satisfied with. I think I view this dichotomy in this way because since I was little, I have never gone to the doctor for regular check-ups. I have always only visited the doctor when something is wrong so that he may fix it and send me on my way. I feel that this may also explain why this dichotomy is logical in western society. In this dichotomy, the patients have a lower social status than the doctors and may also feel at their physician’s mercy. I feel that in our society the reason that the profession of “doctor” is seen as so prestigious is due to our own western vanity. We want to live for as long as possible and we do this by being as healthy as possible, this is where the doctors come in. They are able to give us what we desire most, extended time upon this earth and it is for this reason that there is an inherent and unbalanced divide between doctor and patient.


The culture of biomedicine has many different aspects. As stated in lecture, it has two different perspectives. The University perspective states that biomedicine is a direct reflection of nature and is a representation of universal truth. The objectivity perspective states that value, neutral, and autonomous from cultural contexts and human influences. In Western culture, biomedicine primarily reflects on mainly the doctors and anyone in the medical field that has an influence of the patient and their health. Doctors primarily determine how you’re treated.

It might be through placebo effect, medicine, or some type of therapy. No matter what the case, most of the time, its up to the doctor in western culture. The dichotomy that I chose was Male/Female gender. This is a very touchy subject in society today. Many people think that sex is what you’re born with genetically and gender is the actual role that we choose to play within society’s social norms.

Some think thats its just all genetic period and that society does not have an influence. It all depends on how you look at it. Therefore, this subject is very subjective. It takes on the role of both objectivity and university simultaneously. In my opinion, I think that Male/Female is the sex that you are born with and gender is what we adapt to according to society. For example, how do we know if somebody is acting in a boyish or girlyish way? When society sees a girl that plays sports, handles things roughly, or does not have a dainty walk, we consider her as a “Tomboy.” Society considers her a tomboy because there are specific social norms when it comes to the role of a female.

This dichotomy is accepted as true in society because, as you can see, the hot topic of today’s society is homosexuality. If we did not have gender roles of society, homosexuality would not even exist. If everybody strictly was born a male/female and was not told how to act, then your sex would just be your sex. I think these views came from knowing the views of biomedicine from this course and the university aspect of it all.


The culture of biomedicine in my opinion refers to biomedicine specifically in western culture and medicine. We tend to view biomedicine as absolute and correct, because there is science behind it and it is based on physicality. There is no voodoo or uncertainty in biomedicine, and I believe this contributes to our view on it. Typically when we see new medicines come out, or new procedures, we tend to think that this is absolutely the only way, or the best way, to cure something. As shown in the lecture “Culture of Biomedicine”, one of the aspects is the hospital as a symbol. I find this important to the culture of biomedicine because nothing seems so absolute in our minds as a hospital, yet many hospitals act more like businesses. So while rooted in helping patients, many hospitals still exist to make money, and they will continue to create treatments based on biomedicine that are also very expensive and will end up costing a pretty penny on your hospital bill.

This ties into the dichotomy of body and mind. The hospitals definitely seem to treat patients’ bodies only. They won’t treat our minds typically. In fact, separate doctors exist for that: psychiatrists and psychologists. However, I believe that the body and mind can be more related than they are treated in biomedicine. The placebo effect is a great example. Through our own minds we can make pain seem less painful, or even have someone trick us into believing that a procedure works because we believe it does. I think this shows that the body and mind are much more inter-related. However, should hospitals rely less on this dichotomy, how can they make money? People won’t spend money on “maybes”. You’re not gonna see someone shell out cash to be hypnotized into getting better. In our society, people who do go through things like this are labeled as weird or crazy. There’s not an initiative in our culture to say that they’re simply treating themselves in a different way. Though people will spend money on a procedure that has been effective in 80% of cases, however. I’m not saying one way or the other is more effective at treating patients, but one will certainly give the hospital more money.


Biomedicine in the western culture plays a huge role. I see the culture of biomedicine as a collection of trends it follows like the areas of mass production, consumer capitalism, mass media, information technologies, communication technologies, and biotechnologies. Also I see a lot of emphasis the hospital as a symbol and all the different things it means to people. Similarly see the culture of biomedicine revolve around the doctors who practice it. They are given the authority to many things that ordinary citizen cannot like control their patients eating and sleeping along with being able to write prescription medications. Another thing about doctors and the culture of biomedicine is the stressed placed on their training. It is said it is one of the hardest career paths to follow with so much schooling and long hours of work. These doctors learn a lot of science related topics and not just straight healing treatments. This last idea is why I think the biomedicine is important in our culture. With this extra science that these doctors learn they are able to not only health us but enhance us.  

I chose life and death as the dichotomy. It really can be hard in this day and age to know which side of the line of the dichotomy of life and death you are on with technology. Now there are almost different levels of death to choose from. Are they Brain dead? Can the person breathe on their own? Did their heart stop beating?  Personally I think when a person’s heart stops beating any they cease to breathe on their own they or with the help of a ventilator they should be pronounced dead. I think these views have come from a couple different places but most from my family’s views and from the media. I think western society is still trying to define the division of the life and death dichotomy because of all the advances in technology we have today. Some people accept the death of the body as true while others believe death has to take place in the mind.



Biomedicine is not just a medical practice, but it is a large part of western culture. It encases our cultural beliefs, values and our social ideals. By accepting the biomedical practice as true and valid, we suggest our dependence on provable scientific facts. Biomedicine also allows for the medicalization of thins that would otherwise be considered natural, such as menstruation. I had always considered the practice of biomedicine to be somewhat of an “absolute truth”, or the very best way to treat an illness. However, after examining biomedicine from a new point of view, I can see that it has its disadvantages as well, due to its lack of a holistic approach. When I began seeing these flaws in biomedicine, I began to understand why biomedicine could be said to be a part of our culture. It is something we simply accept to be true and natural and its practice and beliefs guide our everyday decisions and beliefs.

In an attempt to classify our experiences and fit them into a biomedical lens, we see the emergence of several dichotomies that are widely accepted and internalized by Western culture. One of these popular dichotomies that is particularly interesting to me is that of life and death. Is one always dead if they are not alive? One must consider what it is that determines a life (a beating heart or brain functioning?). I think this dichotomy comes from our need to instantly classify the human condition. Due to its popular usage in media and television shows, the “truth” of the life and death dichotomy has been adopted. Although life and death are complex and very multidimensional states of the human condition, it is easier and simpler for one born into Western culture to communicate and understand life and death from the accepted point of view.


The term “culture of biomedicine” reminds us that while biomedicine positions itself as a purely objective and scientific form of healthcare, it still has culture and ritual of its own.  For example, the education and training of biomedical doctors is a rite of passage, and we can examine how it follows a clear progression from ceremonious events of separation from society, transition, and finally, incorporation as new members of society.  Like this week’s Quebbeman article explained, some traditions in Western operating rooms have little scientific basis.  Standard precautions like wearing surgical masks and booties to cover shoes are revered as ensuring the lowest risk of infection, but research has shown that not wearing these protective garments has no significant influence on infection rates in surgical patients.  Instead, rituals like this are steeped in the history of surgery and have remained purely out of tradition.  Recognizing cultural aspects of biomedicine is crucial to evaluating the cost-effectiveness and success of our health care system.

The Western dichotomy between “healthy” and “sick” can often be an arbitrary division on what I consider to be a spectrum between the two states of being.  This is especially true for cases of psychological illness.  Our biomedical health system changes the definitions of psychiatric conditions to reflect current ideologies within society, rather than new scientific discoveries.  Despite this subjective process, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DMV) neatly categorizes over 400 mental illnesses, so that the diagnoses of these have a seemingly logical and scientific basis.  My concept of sickness is a pathological or chronic condition that impairs the body and/or mind’s ability to function.  (For this blog post, I’m not going to get into the “body” and “mind” dichotomy!)  I think that every person has the power to determine whether or not she is sick, and that a personal claim to illness legitimizes it.  Health is when the body and mind are working efficiently and are sufficiently nurtured, but I also see it as a state without disease, or without disease taking a toll on one’s life.  For instance, someone with diabetes who controls his condition with insulin might not define himself as sick.  I think the dichotomy between health and illness is so starkly defined because of our medical system, where doctors have the ultimate authority of classing each patient as sick or healthy.  Thus, the sensations of sickness are not legitimized without a diagnosis.  In a society that prizes the restitution experience of illness, where a condition is diagnosed, then properly treated and cured, we accept and deepen the line between “healthy” and “sick”.