Ecological Approach

I believe that the ecological approach will be the most useful when studying health. Not only does it focus on the relationship between organisms and their total environments but it also incorporates political economy and culture. The interactions between people and their environment are so important because it often directly correlates to the overall health of the people. The varying degrees of involvement with the environment are often dependent on the culture, available natural resources, and the political economy. For example, in Brazilian culture it is custom to use water from the Amazon River to bathe, cook and clean because the resources for water pipelines are not available due to a poor economy and it has always been custom since may generations have lived in the Amazon villages. However, the Amazon River water is not clean and contains many parasites and infectious diseases, and the culture of Brazilian people do not always find it necessary to properly boil the water before using. This interaction with the Brazilian people and their environment reveals why they tend to have parasitic diseases and rashes and also how their practices could be changed to avoid these health issues.

Disease is the outward expression of altered physical functions or infections, whereas illness is the experience and perception of those altered physical functions. This distinction between disease and illness was not always obvious to me, therefore I have often used them interchangeably  and vaguely as just “being sick”. After watching the lecture and understanding the different approaches of medical anthropology, I can clearly understand the importance of the two distinct definitions of disease and illness.

Miner is referring to the American culture in his article Body Ritual Among the Nacirema. I realized this when he described the location of the group as “a North American group living in the territory between the Canadian Cree, the Yaqui and Tarahumare of Mexico” (Miner 1999). It was very interesting though to expect to begin reading about a very different, taboo culture with “magical” practices, and then to realize that the culture being described was my own and others may view it as strangely as I sometimes tend to view other cultures different than my own.

Miner describes the mouth-rite and body-rite practices as important rituals of the Nacirema people. The importance of cleanliness and physical appearance to maintain relationships and social status are clearly values of the Nacirema. Healthcare of the mouth is so important, Miner explains that even though the procedures are almost always very painful the Nacirema continue to see a “holy-mouth-man” to ensure proper dental healthcare. Another ritual Miner describes is the practice of taking the sick to the “latipso” in order to receive treatment for more serious illnesses. However, the stipulation of bringing the ill to the this temple is that “no matter how ill the supplicant or how grave the emergency, the guardians of many
temples will not admit a client if he cannot give a rich gift to the custodian” (Miner 1999). This reveals the emphasis on money and economy over health and well-being among the Nacirema people. Regardless of how ill one may be, they will not receive the healthcare without proper payment, and such is the case still today with health insurance and affordability.


Miner, Horace. “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema.” (1999): n. pag. The Insider / Outsider Problem in the Study of Religion. Web.

This Post Has 1 Comment

  1. Mutaz Juma says:

    Although I chose the biological approach to study health and examine diseases and illnesses in society, I agree with you that there are factors other than lifestyle choices and genetics. We should consider other factors, such as culture, plants and animals, and natural resources. For instance, there are many environmental factors that contribute to diseases, such as air pollution, exposure to secondhand smoke, and exposure to environmental chemicals, such as arsenic, lead, cadmium, pollutant gases, and pesticides.
    The cultural practices and ideologies that Miner described in his article are very similar and represent today’s cultural practices and ideologies. Miner goes to describe the importance of oral hygiene in Nacirema. He said that the ritual consists of inserting a small bundle of hairs into the mouth, along with certain magical powders. This ritual is still widely practiced in the American culture because people believe that ignoring oral hygiene will result in cavities and other gum problems. Although Miner’s description of the dental care and the practices, such as going to the dentist every one or two years, are similar to the current practices, his description of the “holy-mouth-man” seems to be exaggerated to the current ideologies because our society went through many innovations and inventions of new technologies and the system of knowledge in dental care in the past 50 years.

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