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The Body, Meaning and Symbols in Medical Anthropology Essay examples

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In the course of the study of medicine from an anthropological perspective, there are several themes which are repeatedly encountered. These include the body and its representation, meaning and a person’s response to that meaning, and finally, the symbolic images which construct and shape both meaning and the bodily representation. Each of these themes are addressed throughout medical anthropological texts, and are connected to and build on each other in a variety of ways.
The body is the site of medicine, because the body is the site of all cultural practices. As Byron Good states, “medicine formulates the human body and disease in a culturally distinctive fashion”. (Good, 65) It is the cultural fashion of western medicine to objectify the body by constructing it in purely biochemical and molecular terms. As Shiehisa Kuriyama shows us in his work, this is the result of the historical development of Greek medicine and its intersection with the western scientific sentiment. Kuriyama says, “conceptions of the body owe as much to particular uses of the senses as to particular ‘ways of thinking.’” (Kuriyama, 12) He goes on to explain how a tradition of empiricism and a belief that “only [literal speech] can insure limpid understanding; [figurative speech] is profoundly unreliable” (Kuriyama, 75), informed the development of the western medical culture.
With the obsession with clear and unambiguous language came a set of presuppositions, which, among other things, created a hierarchy of bodily representation. Kuriyama describes this in terms of western obsessions with musculature or the Chinese emphasis on how the skin looks. When the West undertook its various imperialistic projects across the globe this hierarchy of the...


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...sm for a lack of modernity. Villagers were keenly aware of what the shaman meant not only to their own culture, but also what it meant to those in the transnational space, and their conception changes because of this.
Thus we see how medical anthropology studies and provides analysis on the issues of the body, bodily perception, and the representation of the body, as well as meaning and symbolism. Also we see how medical anthropology takes these interpretations and uses them to critique the system’s practices. The biomedical system largely ignores the social aspects of illness, and this does a disservice to the suffering individual it seeks to restore. It emphasizes a biological reductionism which limits the care it can bring to the person it reconstructs as a patient, and in doing so, it discounts the multiple meanings medical symbols can hold for the patient.


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