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August 2019

Soc Sci Med. 1995 Jun; 40(12): 1655-61.

Medical practice and anthropological bias.

Bolton J.

Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, University of Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA.

The purpose of this article is twofold: to describe some of the biases common to anthropological investigations of healing, particularly Biomedical healing; and to suggest that the physician-anthropologist is uniquely positioned to avoid some of these biases and to make valid contributions to the understanding of the practice of healing. Biases described are methodological (the tendency to formal-symbolic analyses rather than practical-instrumental understanding of behavior, transference and the observer effect), ontological (due to the estrangement of the anthropologist from his culture, other disciplines and his subjects, romanticization of the Other and celebration of the exotic over the mundane), and conventional or stylistic (the minimal importance given to emotional or psychological aspects of behavior, the emphasis on visual and linguistic understanding over other forms of investigation, unsophisticated use of medical texts as an indicator of clinical practice, a characteristic mode of reductionism, and the failure to elicit the responses of the subjects to interpretations made by anthropologists). As native-ethnographer, the M.D./Ph.D. physician-anthropologist may avoid some of these biases and offer complementary interpretations of healing.

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