Early Studies of Biomedicine

Early studies of what we now call Biomedicine were primarily conducted by sociologists during the 1950s and 1960s (e.g., Goffman, 1961; Merton et al., 1957; Strauss, Schatzman, Bucher, Ehrlich, & Sabzhin, 1964). Sociologists did not question the (cultural) nature of biomedical knowledge nor assess the cultural bases of medical social structures. Both were assumed to be scientific and beyond culture and locality. Rather, their central concerns were the sociological aspects of the profession such as social roles, socialization into the profession, and the impact of institutional ideology. With few exceptions (see Fox, 1979), a lack of a comparative basis inhibited sociology from recognizing the cultural principles that form the basis for biomedical theory, research, and clinical practice.

Biomedicine first came into the anthropological gaze as a product of studies that sought to consider professional medicines of other "Great Traditions" rather than the folk or "ethnomedicines" of traditional, small-scale cultures. Indian Ayurvedic (Leslie, 1976), Japanese Kanpo (Lock, 1980; Ohnuki-Tierney, 1984), and Traditional Chinese Medicine (Kleinman, 1980; Kleinman, Kunstadter, Alexander, & Gale, 1975) were objects of study in comparative frameworks that included Biomedicine. In these contexts, Biomedicine began to receive some scrutiny suggestive of its cultural construction, but this was not yet the primary focus of research.

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