Skip to main content
Social Sci LibreTexts

16: Health and Medicine (Henninger-Rener)

  • Page ID

    • Define the biocultural perspective and provide examples of how interactions between biology and culture have affected human biology.
    • Identify four ethno-etiologies (personalistic, naturalistic, emotionalistic, and biomedical) and describe how each differs in explaining the root cause of illness.
    • Explain the significance of faith in healing.
    • Examine the relationship between mental health and cultural factors, including stigma, that affect the way people with mental health conditions are perceived.
    • Discuss examples of culture-bound syndromes.
    • Evaluate the positive and negative effects of biomedical technologies.

    What does it mean to be “healthy”? It may seem odd to ask the question, but health is not a universal concept and each culture values different aspects of well-being. At the most basic level, health may be perceived as surviving each day with enough food and water, while other definitions of health may be based on being free of diseases or emotional troubles. Complicating things further is the fact that that each culture has a different causal explanation for disease. For instance, in ancient Greece health was considered to be the product of unbalanced humors or bodily fluids. The four humors included black bile, phlegm, yellow bile, and blood. The ancient Greeks believed that interactions among these humors explained differences not only in health, but in age, gender, and general disposition. Various things could influence the balance of the humors in a person’s body including substances believed to be present in the air, changes in diet, or even temperature and weather. An imbalance in the humors was believed to cause diseases, mood problems, and mental illness.1

    • 16.1: Prelude to Health and Medicine
      The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes that the health of individuals and communities is affected by many factors: “where we live, the state of our environment, genetics, our income and education level, and our relationships with friends and family.” Research conducted by the WHO suggests that these characteristics play a more significant role in affecting our health than any others, including having access to health care.
    • 16.3: Ethnomedicine
      thnomedicine is the comparative study of cultural ideas about wellness, illness, and healing. For the majority of our existence, human beings have depended on the resources of the natural environment and on health and healing techniques closely associated with spiritual beliefs. Many such practices, including some herbal remedies and techniques like acupuncture, have been studied scientifically and found to be effective. Others have not necessarily been proven medically effective by external sci
      In the history of human health, technology is an essential topic. Medical technologies have transformed human life. They have increased life expectancy rates, lowered child mortality rates, and are used to intervene in and often cure thousands of diseases. Of course, these accomplishments come with many cultural consequences. Successful efforts to intervene in the body biologically also have implications for cultural values and the social organization of communities, as demonstrated by the examp
    • 6.S: CONCLUSION and Questions

    Thumbnail: Yup'ik "medicine man exorcising evil spirits from a sick boy" in Nushagak, Alaska, 1890s. Image used with permission (Public Domain; Carpenter, Frank G.).