The tempering of medical anthropology: troubling natural categories

Med Anthropol Q. 2001 Dec;15(4):478-92. doi: 10.1525/maq.2001.15.4.478.


This article reviews an approach in medical anthropology that commenced in the early 1980s and that continues to the present day in which biomedical knowledge and practices are systematically incorporated into anthropological analyses. Discussion then focuses on contributions made by feminists and medical anthropologists to the literature on medicalization and resistance, illustrating how the ethnographic approach has been crucial in critically reconceptualizing and situating these concepts historically and cross-culturally. The concept of local biologies is introduced in the third section of the article in creating the argument that the coproduction of biologies and cultures contributes to embodied experience, which, in turn, shapes discourse about the body. Subjective reporting at menopause provides an illustrative case study of local biologies in action. The final part of the article takes up the question of the moral economy of scientific knowledge. Comparative ethnographic work in intensive care units in Japan and North America reveals how a moral economy is put into practice in connection with brain-dead bodies and the procurement of organs from them. Medical anthropological contributions to policy making about biomedical technologies is briefly considered in closing.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anthropology, Cultural / standards
  • Anthropology, Cultural / trends*
  • Attitude to Health / ethnology*
  • Bioethics
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Female
  • Feminism*
  • Genetic Testing
  • Genetics, Population
  • Human Body
  • Humans
  • Iatrogenic Disease
  • Menopause
  • Morals
  • Sociology, Medical / standards
  • Sociology, Medical / trends*