Sickness and Healing


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An Anthropological Perspective

Robert A. Hahn

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The ways in which people respond to sickness differ greatly from society to society. In this book anthropologist and epidemiologist Robert A. Hahn examines how Western and non-Western cultures influence the definition, experience, and treatment of sickness.

Hahn begins by developing a definition of sickness that is based on the patient's perception of suffering and disturbance rather than on the physician's assessment of biomedical signs. After reviewing the principal theories that account for the forms of sickness and healing found in different historical and cultural situations, he explores the relevance of both anthropological and epidemiological approaches to sickness, focusing on the persistent gap between white and black infant mortality in the United States. Hahn then describes contemporary Western medicine as it might be seen by a visiting foreign anthropologist. He delineates the culture of Western medicine and portrays the world of one physician at work, traces the evolution of obstetrics since 1903 by analyzing the principal textbook—Williams Obstetrics—through its first eighteen editions, and explores the gulf between physicians and their patients by examining the accounts of physicians who have written about their own illnesses. He concludes by proposing ways in which some of the ills of contemporary Western medicine might be remedied by applying anthropological principles to medical training and practice.

Robert A. Hahn is an epidemiologist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and adjunct associate professor of anthropology at Emory University.

"An impressive tour de force that poses challenging perspectives on sickness and medical treatment by weaving together topics, analyses, and numerous references from a variety of disciplines."—Charles C. Hughes, University of Utah

"Hahn's account provides an enlightening view into the world of allopathic medicine that may be of interest to students of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, Nutrition, and Naturopathy. . . . Hahn's work covers a wide variety of topics that serve to help define medicine from the perspective of cultural anthropology. Because of this, individual chapters should appeal to a variety of interests throughout the healthcare community."—Brendan Reed, The Library Letter

"Sickness and Healing represents a solid contribution to the current literature on anthropological approaches to our understanding of the cultural contexts of illness, suffering, and systems of healing . . . .This book, particularly the chapters on various aspects of the culture of biomedicine and the theoretical orientations of medical anthropology, will be a useful text for both undergraduate and graduate students of medical anthropology."—Patricia A. Marshall, Medical Anthropology Quarterly

ISBN: 9780300060881
Publication Date: February 22, 1995
360 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4