The post-World War II era marked the rise of new nation-states. Released from the shackles of European colonialism, the former colonies as newly emerging nations began to chart their own courses toward becoming modern global partners with and for their former colonizers. Manifestos of various political persuasions and economic strategies became blueprints for transforming colonialist architectures of rule into nationalist administrations. One important manifesto that spoke a common language across the globe was development ideology. For newly emerging nation-states in search of an international language to legitimate their status as democratic nations among democracies, development ideology, based on the authoritative ground of "scientific" theory and technique, provided immediate entry into an international network of power, knowledge, and finance. The health of the population and the state of its health care provisions were, after forming a government, a top priority for these youthful nation-states. South and Southeast Asian countries, various African states, governments in the Middle East and the Americas, in the spirit of self-determination, guided by the ideology of developmentalism, prepared for take-off into the atmosphere of the modern world by turning their attentions to improving health. In many cases, after centuries of colonial rule, standards of health and health care remained dismal, especially for those segments of the population already marginalized by colonial practices.

Medical anthropology found itself as a sub-field of anthropology at this historical moment of post-coloniality. The research concerns and methodological approaches of medical anthropology emerged within a post-colonial context for which "development" and the urge to develop were integral features of political and social life. Medical anthropology as applied to theory and practice shaped and was shaped by the "essential binaries" that are central organizing principles for colonial theories of human diversity formulated to justify inequality and relations of domination and control. Such binaries include distinctions made between primitive and modern, simple and complex, small scale and large scale, undeveloped (or developing) and developed, Third World and First World. However, medical anthropology as a problem-oriented research activity also reflected the real actualities of colonial history manifest in conditions of health and health care. Medical anthropology continues to reflect and contribute to the unfolding history of post-coloniality and the post-colonial condition.

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