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- Child Well-Being: Anthropological Perspectives
- Anthropology, Culture and Society Ser.: Human Rights
- Cultural anthropology
Anthropology, health and illness: an introduction to the concept of culture applied to the health sciences.
Cultural anthropology is a branch of anthropology focused on the study of cultural variation among humans. It is in contrast to social anthropology , which perceives cultural variation as a subset of a posited anthropological constant. The umbrella term sociocultural anthropology includes both cultural and social anthropology traditions.
Anthropology, health and illness: an introduction to the concept of culture applied to the health sciences. I Anthropologist, Ph. Email: estherjeanbr gmail. Email: flaviowiik gmail. Corresponding Author. This article presents a reflection as to how notions and behavior related to the processes of health and illness are an integral part of the culture of the social group in which they occur. It is argued that medical and health care systems are cultural systems consonant with the groups and social realities that produce them.
Such a comprehension is fundamental for the health care professional training. Perhaps it seems out of place to address the theme of culture in a journal dedicated to the Health Sciences or to argue that the concept of culture can be useful for professionals of this area. In this article, we will discuss another notion of culture, the analytical concept that is fundamental to anthropology.
Culture, as conceived by anthropology, also serves as an instrumental concept for health professionals conducting research or health intervention among rural or indigenous populations, as well as in urban contexts characterized by patients belonging to different social classes, religions, regions or ethnic groups.
These patients present unique behaviors and thoughts with regard to the experience of illness, as well as particular notions about health and therapeutic practices.
These particularities do not come from biological differences, but from those that are social and cultural in nature. In short, our point of departure is that everyone has culture and that it is essentially culture that determines these particularities.
Moreover, questions related to the processes of health and illness should be considered from the perspective of the specific socio-cultural contexts in which they occur. This assumption about the role of culture is not exclusive to anthropological knowledge, and theorists, researchers and professionals in the health fields - particularly those in medicine and nursing - have embraced it since the second half of the s They support the idea that biomedicine is a cultural system and that the realities of clinical practice should be analyzed from a transcultural perspective.
Likewise, they draw attention to the relevance of the use of qualitative methods and techniques in health research, in particular, the ethnographic method 3. Conjoined to these reflections, are theoretical and philosophical premises found at the intersection of health and culture, between the imponderables observed in practical intervention by health professionals in the face of cultural theory, between cultural relativism and universal human rights, and between the demands of a health profession and the more theoretical and reflexive space of anthropology 4.
This theme has been addressed in the Latin American Journal of Nursing through publication of results of studies and research conducted by health professionals and academics Likewise, the influence of religious belief has been observed to positively affect the survival of total laryngectomy patients who are surrounded by socio-affective religious networks accompanying them and praying for their healing.
They also question the factibility between the use of interpretivism, which tends toward hermeneutic subjectivity, and the construction of knowledge according to scientific objectivity. An instrumental concept of culture. Considering the purpose of this article, we will limit ourselves to discussing some essential and instrumental aspects linked to the concept of culture, which, in turn, will be used in the typological and analytical construction proposed.
Culture can be defined as a set of elements that mediates and qualifies any physical or mental activity that is not determined by biology and which is shared by different members of a social group.
They are elements with which social actors construct meanings for concrete and temporal social interaction, as well as sustain existing social forms, institutions and their operating models.
Culture includes values, symbols, norms and practices. From this definition, three aspects should be emphasized so that we can comprehend the meaning of socio-cultural activity. Culture is learned , shared , and patterned In affirming that culture is learned , we are stating that we cannot explain the differences in human behavior through biology in an isolated way. Without denying its important role, the cultural ist perspective argues that culture shapes biological and bodily needs and characteristics.
Thus, biology provides a backdrop for behavior, as well as for the potentialities of human formation and development. However, it is the culture shared by individuals of a society that transforms these potentialities into specific, differentiated, and symbolically intelligible and communicable activities.
Ethnographic studies on sexual behavior patterns according to gender have indicated that there are wide variations in the behavior of the sexes and that these variations are based on what people have learned from their culture about what it is to be a man or a woman Culture is shared and patterned , because it is a human creation shared by specific social groups.
Material forms, as well as their symbolic content and attributions, are patterned by concrete social interactions of individuals. Culture is a result of their experiences in determined contexts and specific spaces, which can be transformed, shared and permeated by different social segments.
In order to illustrate our argument, we can observe different cultural patterns regarding the types of food and diet. In Brazil, the combination of rice and beans is fundamental for a meal to be considered complete. Without them, even with presence of meat, many say their hunger is not satisfied.
Others always need a meat dish to feel well fed. They can even leave the table hungry, after eating a hearty dish of Chinese food filled with mixed vegetables with little meat. But a Chinese feels completely satisfied with a primarily vegetarian meal.
Not only is what to eat determined in a particular way by culture, but also when to eat as well. From this perspective, culture defines social standards regarding what and when to eat, as well as the relationship between types of foods that should or should not be combined, and, consequently, the experience of satisfying hunger, or not, is both socially and biologically determined. In affirming that culture is tied to all physical or mental activity, we are not alluding to a patchwork quilt composed of pieces of superstitions or behavior lacking in intrinsic coherence and logic.
Fundamentally, culture organizes the world of each social group according to its own logic. It is an integrating experience, holistic and totalizing, one of belonging and interacting. Consequently, culture shapes and maintains social groups that share, communicate and replicate their ways, institutions, and their principles and cultural values. Given its dynamic nature and intrinsic politico-ideological characteristics, culture and the elements that comprise it are mediating sources of social transformation, highly politicized, appropriated, modified and manipulated by social groups throughout their history, guided by the intentions of the social actors in the establishing of new socio-cultural patterns and societal models.
Moreover, each group interacts with a specific physical environment, and culture defines how to survive in this environment. Human beings have the capacity to participate in any culture, to learn any language, and to perform any task.
Language, social roles and positions are governed by age, sex and other cultural variables that influence the bodily techniques and aesthetic patterns adopted, as well as the social roles performed according to ideal types informed by the kinship system and other institutions of the society to which a person belongs. Finally, in this dialogue between the individual and society, culture is both the subject and object. They are responsible for the transformation of individuals into social actors, into members of a certain group that mutually recognize each other.
As social actors, they learn and replicate the principles that guide ideal patterns of valued and qualified types of action, those of behavior, dress, or eating habits, as well as techniques for diagnosis and treatment of illness.
Moreover, the socialization of individuals is responsible for the transmission of meanings about why to do it. The why to do has special importance as it allows us to understand the integration and the logic of a culture.
Culture, above all, offers us a view of the world , that is, the perception of how the world is organized and how to act accordingly in a world that receives its meaning and value through culture. To present another example: the concept of cleanliness and hygiene are fundamental categories present in all cultures. This variation reflects a fundamental assertion in the construction of the field of anthropological knowledge: the paradoxical confirmation of the diversity and unity encompassed by cultural phenomenon that is, at the same time, one and universal, diverse and specific.
Among the Barasana Indians of the Colombian Amazon jungle 15 , apart from ants with cassava manioc bread , the diet consists of meat or fish obtained by the men and eaten with cassava made by the women. When a hunter is lucky, upon returning to the longhouse, he delivers the largest portion of meat to the most senior man of his extended family.
His wife or wives cook the meat in a large pot and put it on the floor in the center of the house. Then, the senior man first calls the men to eat according to hierarchical rules based on age groups and prestige. Afterwards, he calls the women, though not always all of them.
Children are never called to eat when the pot contains the meat of large animals or fish. In addition to the social rules based on hierarchy and distribution of power that regulate food consumption, all foods and those who prepare or ingest them, are regulated by cultural principles of cleanliness and purity, known by the Barasana as witsioga.
Witsioga consists of a substance present in the food, especially meat, which is dangerous for small children and people of certain age groups or in liminal states, such as those entering puberty or participating in shamanism initiation, pregnant or women in post-partum, and those who are ill. The Barasana have a complex classification of animals and fish that are witsioga. They classify them according to size, behavior, etc. There are also principles that regulate a series of practices and actions that can and cannot be performed after eating meat, besides the hygienic practices intended to cleanse this substance from the people who eat meat that contains witsioga.
Witsioga also regulates the diagnosis, origin and etiology of diseases, and, in turn, is linked to the cosmology of the Indians. This example illustrates that when we are faced with the customs present in other cultures, we should try to understand their why. By doing this, we avoid an ethnocentric comprehension of them, that is, judging Barasana culture according to our own values and classification of the world and not according to theirs.
The anthropological perspective requires that, when faced with different cultures, we do not make moral judgments based on our own cultural system and that we understand other cultures according to their own values and knowledge - which express a particular view of the world that orients their practices, knowledge and attitudes.
This procedure is called cultural relativism. It is what allows us to comprehend the why of the activities and the logic of meanings attributed to them, without ranking or judging them, but only, and, above all, recognizing them as different!
Many other examples could also be drawn from ethnographic research conducted by the health professionals cited in this article All of them lead us to reflect on issues related to health habits, rituals, techniques of care and attention, and restrictions with regard to the use of therapeutic practices e.
We have used examples taken from a society whose culture is very distant, one characterized as a simple society. However, in a complex society like Brazil, which, in addition to being stratified by social classes, is comprised of numerous ethnic groups and population segments exhibiting diverse religious and regional customs, we find internal cultural differences and inter-group variations.
This complexity is the background of the context that articulates health, culture and society, and in which professionals and researchers in the field of health are inserted. Culture, society and health.
If we accept that culture is a total phenomenon and thus one which provides a world view for those who share it, guiding their knowledge, practices and attitudes, it is necessary to recognize that the processes of health and illness are contained within this world view and social praxis. Concerns with illness and health are universal in human life and present in all societies. Each group organizes itself collectively - through material means, thought and cultural elements - to comprehend and develop techniques in response to experiences or episodes of illness and misfortune, whether individual or collective.
As a consequence, each and all societies develop knowledge, practices and specific institutions that may be called the health care system 1. Thus the health care system is not disconnected from other general aspects of culture, just as a social system is not dissociated from the social organization of a group. Consequently, the manner by which a particular social group thinks and organizes itself to maintain health and face episodes of illness, is not dissociated from the world view and general experience that it has with respect to the other aspects and socio-culturally informed dimensions of experience.
It would also be difficult to comprehend the importance of this concept within their concerns for health or to convince them that in an environment with few sources of protein, prohibiting meat for young children and breastfeeding women may affect their growth if they do not have another adequate protein source. A health care system is a conceptual and analytical model, not a reality itself, for the understanding of social groups with whom we live or study.
The concept helps to systematize and comprehend the complex set of elements and factors experienced in daily life in a fragmented and subjective manner, be this in our own society and culture or in that of an unfamiliar one. It is important to understand that in a complex society such as the Brazilian one, there are several health care systems operating concurrently, systems that represent the diversity of the groups and cultures that constitute the society.
Although the state medical system, which provides health services through the National Health System SUS , is based on biomedical principles and values, the population, when sick, uses many other systems. Many groups do not seek medical doctors, but use folk medicine ; others use medical-religious systems, and others seek multiple alternative health systems throughout the therapeutic process.
To think of the health care system as a cultural system helps us to comprehend this multiplicity of therapeutic itineraries. The Cultural System of Health. The cultural system of health emphasizes the symbolic dimension of the understanding of health and includes the knowledge, perceptions and cognitions used to define, classify, perceive and explain disease.
Child Well-Being: Anthropological Perspectives
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Anthropology, Culture and Society Ser.: Human Rights
Handbook of Child Well-Being pp Cite as. A major contribution of anthropological approaches to child well-being is that they address variation across a wide range of cultures and settings. This broad perspective is necessary because cultures vary widely both in care practices and in definitions of child well-being. Anthropologists have derived models to explain variation in child development and well-being in relation to factors not only at the level of the caregiver or household e. These models pay special attention to culture both as a determinant of resource distribution within societies and as a source of ideologies that inform and motivate actions, including patterns of child-rearing.
Culture is the patterns of learned and shared behavior and beliefs of a particular social, ethnic, or age group. It can also be described as the complex whole of collective human beliefs with a structured stage of civilization that can be specific to a nation or time period. Humans in turn use culture to adapt and transform the world they live in.
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Звон колоколов оглушал, эхо многократно отражалось от высоких стен, окружающих площадь. Людские потоки из разных улиц сливались в одну черную реку, устремленную к распахнутым дверям Севильского собора.