Finding a path through the health unit: practical experience of Ugandan patients

Med Anthropol. Jul-Sep 2005;24(3):209-36. doi: 10.1080/01459740500182659.


Finding one's way through a health facility is not necessarily an easy task for Ugandan patients. Our understanding of how people succeed in doing so, and of the obstacles they encounter on their way, is incomplete if we focus only on the cognitive level of the clinical encounter. Much research in public health and medical anthropology implicitly works with the notion that agency is located in the mind and that cognitive understanding is a precondition for practice. Based on material from eastern Uganda, this article explores the practical experience of Ugandan patients and their relatives and reflects upon the ways in which this notion of agency has often caused us to confuse the spectator's point of view with the actor's point of view. Thus, as Pierre Bourdieu has argued, we are made to look for answers to "questions that practice never asks because it has no need to ask them."

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Cognition
  • Female
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Male
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / psychology*
  • Professional-Family Relations
  • Professional-Patient Relations*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Social Environment
  • Uganda