Medical anthropology and history: what to read next?
August 22, 2013 1:11 PM   Subscribe

I'm about to finish The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. Before that, I read Nancy Scheper-Hughes' Death Without Weeping. What's next?

I am teaching myself about medical anthropology and loved the two books mentioned above because they say a lot about the physical, emotional, economic and social impacts of clashes between non-Western or folk medicine/diagnoses and Western medicine while still being great reads. What other books do the same sort of thing?

I've seen this thread and am poking around it, but I'm less interested in the history of scientific development and more interested in healthcare culture clashes. Bonus points for anything written about more distant history (19th century would be awesome, something earlier even more so).
posted by oinopaponton to Society & Culture (8 answers total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
Anything by Paul Farmer. Pathologies of Power is the one I have fond memories of. If you want a less academic distillation of his main ideas and accomplishments, Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder.

When I took medical anthropology in college, my professor started the class by asking us "how many of you are here because you want to be Paul Farmer someday?" There were rather a lot of hands raised.
posted by ActionPopulated at 1:18 PM on August 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, Righteous Dopefiend by Philippe Bourgois, though I recommend it with lots of reservations. (It's well regarded within anthro, but some folks I know who've done social service work with drug users have issues with it.) Ethnography about homeless drug users in San Francisco, deals in part with their interactions with medical systems.
posted by ActionPopulated at 1:34 PM on August 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Most recently, I really enjoyed Adriana Petryna's Life Exposed: Biological Citizens after Chernobyl.
posted by artemisia at 2:04 PM on August 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Check out "Emperor of All Maladies" and "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks." The former discusses the history of cancer and how we got to where we are with attitudes about cancer care. The latter is about a the woman whose cancer cells were used to make the first immortal cell lines used in research and talks about how the patient didn't know that any of this was going on.

For a less anthropological perspective, Atul Gawande writes quite a bit of short work about health care and his books are also typically excellent.
posted by honeybee413 at 2:22 PM on August 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding Emperor of all Maladies, especially if you have any interest in the scientific research process.
posted by htid at 4:27 PM on August 22, 2013

Medical anth wasn't my specialty, but here's a syllabus full of names I recognize that focuses on recent books but also, by coincidence, ticks off the 19th C. box on your list by including some Foucault (The Birth of the Clinic may also be on point).
posted by Monsieur Caution at 5:09 PM on August 22, 2013

Best answer: If you don't mind going back to Brazil, I highly recommend both Gregg's Virtually Virgins: Sexual Strategies and Cervical Cancer in Recife, Brazil and Biehl's Vita: life in a zone of social abandonment. The former follows a group of faveladas dealing with a diagnosis and medical system wholly alien to their daily lives, while also coping with what that diagnosis means to their own role as Brasileiras. The latter follows one woman with severe physical and mental illness who has all but been abandoned into a system of squalid institutions. As with Death Without Weeping, these are not exactly funtime beach books, but they are completely worth all the emotional gut-punches.

If you want to pick up something more academic, Brown's Understanding and Applying Medical Anthropology is THE seminal work. The expanded 2nd edition just came out a few years ago, so it's still pretty pricey. You can pick up the 1st edition for cheap though (Amazon had a used copy for 25-cents when I checked). The table of contents is listed here, with all the new additions starred, if you're curious.

Finally, you might also want to poke around the journal, Medical Anthropology Quarterly, on JSTOR. I'm in my Ivory Tower right now so I can't be certain, but at least some volumes should be available for free. At the very least you could easily build a substantial reading list from the book reviews in every issue.
posted by Panjandrum at 1:18 PM on August 29, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks all! I'm in my own ivory tower, so academic journals or hard-to-find publications are great.
posted by oinopaponton at 5:34 PM on August 29, 2013

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