Accepted Paper:

Medical anthropology of medicine or medical anthropology for medicine? Challenges of a medical anthropologist collaborating with medical professionals of cardiovascular diseases  


Maho Isono (Waseda University)

Paper short abstract:

This presentation queries two issues. First, whether medical anthropology should be the discipline of the study of medicine or the study for medicine, and second, how to bridge the gap between medical and anthropological knowledge in terms of theories and methods.

Paper long abstract:

You don't have a medical license, so what is your research useful for? Can you show your results in numbers? How can you solve the problems that we face? These are comments that I have received from Japanese medical professionals after I started fieldwork at cardiovascular disease clinical consultations.

Cardiovascular disease is an area where the technology of quantifying and visualizing of diseases is highly advanced and the quantifiable validity is highly appreciated. However, at clinical sites, clinicians experience problems such as medication non-adherence that only scientific eyes are unable to resolve and, thus, I was accepted as a researcher. Even so, my anthropological study is often antithetical to the studies of natural science in terms of methods and theories. This has caused me a dilemma of how to answer the demands of collaborators and readers in the clinical arena without losing the essence of anthropology—such as showing the results in numbers and tables and avoiding using words that readers conceive as depictive rather than objective. Gradually, this struggle has lead me to philosophical and methodological questions of whether medical anthropology should be the discipline of the study of medicine or the study for medicine, and how is medical anthropology able to avoid exploiting useful information from medical sites only for the sake of the discipline.

This presentation aims to show how medical anthropology should develop in the future based on my ongoing struggle as an anthropologist among medical professionals in Japan.

Panel P033
Medical anthropology into the future: aspirations and challenges (Commission on Medical Anthropology and Epidemiology)