Anthropologists have always been interested in health. This interest has recently been systematized and synthesized into the area of specialization called "medical anthropology," and key concepts have been developed. Controversies in this growing specialization have concerned, among other things, the label "medical," cross-cultural versus ethnographic orientations, and applied versus theoretical approaches.
Much of the cross-cultural research in this field has concentrated on categorizing medical systems, understanding patterns of health-seeking, and, more recently, comparing cultural responses to universal physiological processes as well as comparing variations on universal (or at least regionally or historically common) cultural constructions related to health. Much of the in-depth ethnographic research on health has focused on questions relating to suffering, and its link to the relationship between individual and society, as mediated by culture. Patient-practitioner communication and relations as well as the role of the body have also been salient concerns of late.
After several decades of marginalization on the basis of its practical (i.e., applied) orientation, medical anthropologists have begun to move toward the center of the larger anthropological discipline. This move was underwritten by an overt acceptance of the importance of not only pragmatic action but also the theory that inevitably drives it, and a growing agreement that the relationship between theory and action is neither oppositional nor simply complementary; it is circular, dialogical, and coherent. Just as mind and body only exist as a duality theoretically, so too are theory and action only hypothet-ically divided. Experientially, and in good anthropology, they are a unity. Advances made within the field of medical anthropology once the false dichotomy was exposed have helped to ensure its continued growth and development as well as its value to those outside of the academic arena.
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