The Bigger Picture

Semantic debates notwithstanding, over time, what has become known, for better or worse, as "medical anthropology" has become more influential in anthropology as a whole. Theoretical and methodological advances have informed and inspired the larger discipline, and larger disciplinary debates concerning culture, power, representation, social structure, and other issues increasingly reflect advances stemming from medical anthropology research and practice. This reverse in the flow of ideas marks medical anthropology's move from the margin into the mainstream of the field (Johnson & Sargent, 1990; see also Singer, 1992).

Medical anthropology has grown respectable. It is among the most popular areas of anthropological specialization today. Indeed, SMA's membership places it fourth among the 35 special interest sections of the AAA (and it is bested only by generalist sections).2

Medical anthropology also has grown more diverse as new areas of inquiry have developed. However, it is safe to say, as George Foster and Barbara Anderson did about 25 years ago, that most medical anthropologists take somewhat of a systems approach, considering health and health care within the context of cultural and social systems (Foster & Anderson, 1978). Among biological physical medical anthropologists today, major areas of study include bio-cultural phenomena such as diet, nutrition, health disparities, and evolutionary adaptation. Epidemiology is increasingly influential. In the social-cultural arena, there has been a longstanding ethnographic interest in both psychological aspects of health, and the cultural context of medical practices, knowledge, and beliefs. And it is not only anthropologists who are interested in medical anthropology: largely due to policy relating to diversity and health disparities, medical anthropology has slowly been making its way into medical and nursing school curricula and conferences as a specific topic of interest.

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