A community's medical beliefs do not correspond to a homogeneous set of meanings. Both in complex societies and in traditional and tribal societies individuals are drawn by sickness into multiple and often contradictory systems of meanings and action. The appearance of unity and homogeneity within a specificcommunity is not accidental, however. Usually it is an expression of power, of the capacity of one segment of the community—its medical experts, political leaders, moral authorities, and others—to define and control which of the alternative sets of medical meanings will be carried over into public discourse. In this sense power is the ability to convince people that the socially dominant meanings of sickness are also the authentic meanings (Young, 1982).


SEE ALSO: Anthropology and Bioethics; Bioethics, African-American Perspectives; Body; Eugenics: Historical Aspects; Feminism; Insanity and the Insanity Defense; Lifestyles and Public Health; Medicine, Anthropology of; Medicine, Philosophy of; Medicine, Sociology of; Mental Illness; Race and Racism; Sexual Identity; Women, Historical and Cross-Cultural Perspectives; and other Health and Disease subentries

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