W5 Reflection: Nature/Culture

I think when people refer to the “culture of biomedicine” they envision business-like clinics and sterile operating rooms. Biomedicine is a term for western-style medical practices that are commonly seen in developed countries like the United States. The culture that surrounds the idea of modern medicine is often conceptualized as an institutionalized version of health care that is integrated into the lives of the members of the society it exists in.  This is evident in the way that pharmaceutical companies market their treatments directly to patient consumers, instead of through a health care system. The culture of biomedicine is also exemplified by the way clinics are run. Many hospitals are often seen as “health factories” that accept sick people, and churn out healthy ones. Often people’s symptoms are only treated on the surface, and not cured or completely dealt with. This begins a cycle of check-ups and return visits that can trap a patient in a vacuum of financial means.

An obvious dichotomy seen in the culture of biomedicine is the disparity between nature and culture. I see this dichotomy as the medical institution’s focus on pure science, and the biology of their patients, without regard for their patients’ cultural or religious influences on their well-being. During the section on the ethnomedical aspect of medicine, we learned that a patients health is not always dependent on their biology alone. There are a myriad of cultural events that could impact a patient positively or negatively and this, in turn, can affect their health in similar ways. Biomedical doctrine focuses on the physical and biological causes for a patients health or illness and usually totally disregards any ethnomedical factors. This obviously creates a stark comparison of nature to culture. I believe this specific dichotomy is typically accepted in western societies. Many people do not have religious or cultural influences in America compared to other Asian or African countries. Because of this, many westerners accept the biological, natural, way as the only way in regards to ones well being. Many western people also separate their culture or religion from other aspects of their lives such as their career or their health. These factors cause this dichotomy to be accepted in western culture.

One thought on “W5 Reflection: Nature/Culture

  1. You raise great points. I think it’s critical that the health professions recognize the overlap of nature and culture and also the ways in which cultural/social context influence health. Trying to do that not only has the result of creating more ideologically diverse healing spaces but will have direct impacts on the quality of direct service provision and health policy at large. Critiquing the nature/culture dichotomy helps us create narratives about human health that shift attitudes and interventions. This is especially true for conditions that are increasingly shown to be tied to social and cultural context (diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.).

    Taken as fact, the dichotomy leads to faulty conclusions about the nature of disease and then, logically, one ends up looking in the wrong places for answers. Focusing too greatly on biological or genetic disease contributions can lead to ineffective, even dangerous, biomedical interventions and policy approaches. Biomedicine should respect social science and anthropological evidence that can improve the quality of biomedical interventions. When biomedicine overinsists on the nature perspective or cannot blend it with the cultural perspective, it betrays its own core values of objectivity and truth finding. It becomes rigid, and becomes less useful as a result.

Leave a Reply