Med Anthro vs Med Soc

Paul Reser (Paul.Reser@JCU.EDU.AU)
Tue, 14 Mar 1995 11:08:28 +1000

I have been reading the posts cocerning anthropology's place in the social
sciences with some interest. At the last meeting of the Australian
Anthropological Society there was a session was scheduled to address the
differences and continuities between sociology and anthropology. I was
unable to attend, and have not as of yet followed up to see if proceedings
are available. At any rate, my interest in this topic was more specific.

I have been trying to delineate the fields of medical anthropology and
medical sociology. Methodology? Subject? Seems like a tricky if useless
distinction. At one time there was a greater distance in the field, with
medical anthropology buried in an ecological perspective and medical
sociology (early on and in part anyway) very applied in focus. Now of
course one sees so much more diversity. I can't say I see much of the
inclusion of ecological/evolutionary approaches in medical sociology, but
with the advent of political economy of health in medical anthroplogy as
well as critical interperative approaches (not to mention clinically
applied anthropology) a certain convergence of approaches seems to have

If you will all excuse a divergence into autobiography, I would like to
explain why this is an issue for me. My interest in this has a pragmatic
slant. I am a PhD candidate presently undertaking studies in the
disciplines of *sociology* and biomedical science. My research focusses on
transitions in health in a remote Aboriginal community, and how this
relates to changes in government health policy and governance. I am
depending mostly on archival sources, though I will make a few brief trips
to the community ( I have already spent time there as a research officer on
another project). When I began my postgraduate studies (completing both a
MQual in Anthroplogy and a MSc in Tropical Medical Science) one of my
advisors was a medical anthropologist in the department of anthropology. He
has departed, and so now I have as an advisor a medical sociologist, though
I still maintain a strong interest in medical anthropology and utilise the
literature in my present course of study. During the same period I moved
from tutoring in the department of anthropology to the department of
psychology and sociology - thanks to a very broad undergraduate education
in the USA plus the opportunity for more secure appointment. Thus one of
the reasons for having sociology as a label on my PhD.

So, what do you all see as the distinction between medical anthropology and
medical sociology? Should I really worry what I call it? At one time the
hallmark of anthropological training was the fieldwork experience, though
now this is becoming less common, and certainly there are sociologists who
engage in participant observation. Does the distinction have to do with
crossing cultural boundaries? Against this distinction I have seen articles
written by eminent medical anthroplogists on RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury)
in their own societies, and certainly there are medical sociologists
working in minority health issues.

Your comments would be helpful to a very ideologically confused student.

Paul A. Reser
Department of Psychology and Sociology
James Cook University
Townsville, QLD 4811