The term cognitive medical anthropology does not refer to a recognized and clearly demarcated field of study but rather to a body of work that addresses topics of relevance to medical anthropologists while also reflecting cognitive anthropological interest in "the relation between human society and human thought" (D'Andrade, 1995, p. 1, italics removed).
Initially labeled as the "new ethnography," "ethno-science," "ethnosemantics," or "ethnographic semantics" (Casson, 1994), the emergence of cognitive anthropology dates to the beginning of what has been called the "cognitive revolution" in the late 1950s (D'Andrade, 1995). After a "long cold winter of objectivism" and the domination of behavioristic theories, the cognitive revolution "was intended to bring 'mind' back into the human sciences" (Bruner, 1990, p. 1). A recurring commitment expressed in much of the cognitive anthropological literature is to describe and represent cultural knowledge in a manner compatible with what is known about human cognition. For many, another longstanding orientation is to the insider's view: the society member's perspective on what things mean and what is going on in his or her social world. The principal aim of cognitive anthropology is to understand and describe people in other societies in their own terms, as they conceive and experience it. A further aim is to avoid the biases induced by ethnocentrism, distortions that result when an investigator imposes an outsider's view on life in another society and describes it from this external perspective. (Casson, 1994, p. 61)
An early and influential conceptualization of culture formulated by Ward Goodenough motivated much subsequent work within cognitive anthropology. Goodenough (1957, p. 167) defined culture as "whatever it is one must know or believe in order to operate in a manner acceptable to its members, and do so in any role that they accept for any one of themselves. Culture . . . must consist of the end product of learning: knowledge, in a most general, if relative, sense of the term." While a focus on describing shared and internalized cultural content (e.g., shared understandings about illness or widely known cultural models) has been and continues to be a productive venue of inquiry, some cognitively oriented work within medical anthropology points to the limitations of focusing on the "end product" without also attending to process. Such work has underscored the socially situated nature of cognition, embedded in and unfolding in interactions and activities to meet the needs of everyday life.
Although the specific studies examined here concern topics of interest to medical anthropologists, not all the literature reviewed here is authored by individuals who self-identify as medical anthropologists. Links to broader trends and themes in cognitive anthropology are provided to situate the research discussed. The first section introduces some methodologies proposed for discovering the underlying conceptual organization of the illness domain. Other topics explored here include: measuring variability in cultural knowledge and the development of cultural consensus theory; comparing cultural knowledge across cultural settings; cognitive-ethnographic studies of illness treatment decisions; and cultural models of illness and illness narratives.
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