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Medical Anthropology

A Biocultural Approach

Fourth Edition

Andrea S. Wiley and John S. Allen

Publication Date - 23 October 2020

ISBN: 9780197515990

496 pages
6 1/8 x 9 1/4 inches

In Stock

A biocultural approach to medical anthropology, examining health issues within evolutionary, historical, sociocultural, and political-economic contexts


Medical Anthropology: A Biocultural Approach, Fourth Edition, offers an accessible and contemporary overview of this rapidly expanding field. For each health issue examined in the text, the authors first present basic biological information and then expand their analysis to include evolutionary, historical, and cross-cultural perspectives on how these issues emerged and are understood. Medical Anthropology considers how a biocultural approach can be applied to more effective prevention and treatment efforts and underscores medical anthropology's potential to improve health around the world.

New to this Edition

  • Updated research includes the latest findings and new approaches
  • Increased discussions of the importance of causation in healing, training in alternative medicine, decision making in transplant patients, and the concept of cultural safety in healthcare delivery
  • An updated discussion of the vaccination and anti-vaxx movements, with cross-cultural perspectives
  • A substantially revised chapter on diet and nutrition, organized around major transitions in prehistory and history, and population variation in diet and nutrition
  • Updated discussion of emerging infectious diseases, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic
  • An expanded discussion of community mental health centers and stigma and mental illness
  • Elaborated discussions of intersectionality and structural discrimination/racism and its relationship to stress and health disparities

About the Author(s)

Andrea S. Wiley is Professor and Chair of Anthropology at Indiana University, Bloomington.

John S. Allen is Research Associate in the Department of Anthropology at Indiana University, Bloomington.


"Medical Anthropology is the most integrated biocultural text I have found. It provides essential background for students from diverse disciplines and offers an excellent balance of cultural anthropology, biological anthropology, and relevant health issues."--Melissa Melby, University of Delaware

"This is an excellent introduction to medical anthropology. It is well-balanced, accessible, and provides accurate lessons for students as they upend many of their assumptions about culture and its importance in this kind of material."--Roberta Fiske Rusciano, Rider University

"Medical Anthropology takes a true holistic anthropological approach to the study of health and disease, and provides numerous concrete illustrations of case studies from around the world."--Lianne Tripp, University of Northern British Columbia

Table of Contents

    Preface: A Biocultural Approach to Medical Anthropology
    What is Distinctive About This Text
    What Is New In This Edition
    Outline of the Book

    Chapter 1: Introduction: A Biolcultural Approach to Medical Anthropology
    What Is Anthropology?
    The Development of Medical Anthropology
    What is Medical Anthropology?
    The Culture Concept
    A Biocultural Perspective
    Looking Ahead

    Chapter 2: Anthropological Perspectives on Health and Disease
    Definitions of Health
    Health, Ethics, and Cultural Relativism
    The Locus of Health: The Body and Society
    Biological Normalcy
    Evolutionary Perspectives on Health
    Behavioral Adaptability

    Cultural Approaches in Medical Anthropology
    Political Economy of Health
    Ethnomedical Systems
    Interpretive Approaches to Illness and Suffering
    Applied Medical Anthropology


    Chapter 3: Healers and Healing
    Culture and Healing Systems
    Recruitment: How Healers Become Healers
    Alternative and Complementary Medicines
    Navajo Medicine
    When Biomedicine is Alternative Medicine
    Alternative Biomedicines
    Death as a Biocultural Concept
    Placebo and Nocebo
    Harnessing the Power of the Placebo
    Vaccination and Anti-Vaxx Movements

    Chapter 4: Diet and Nutrition in Health and Disease
    Human Nutrition
    How Many Nutrients Do You Need?
    Diet and Digestion
    Nutrition Transitions in Human Prehistory and History
    Evolutionary History: Hunter Gatherer and "Paleo" Diets
    Agricultural Transition

    Post Agricultural Dietary Adaptations and Challenges
    Lactase persistence/non-persistence and Lactose intolerance
    Celiac Disease

    Barry Popkin's Nutrition Transition: Globalization and Ultra-Processing

    Future Nutrition Transitions and Sustainability Concerns

    Chapter 5: Child Growth and Health
    Life History Theory
    Gestation: The First 38 Weeks of Growth and Development
    Small But Healthy?
    Is Bigger Better?
    Sex, Gender, Growth, and Health
    Environmental Toxins and Growth
    Puberty and the Onset of Adolescence
    Teenage Pregnancy in the United States

    Chapter 6: Reproductive Health in Biocultural Context
    Medicalization of Women's Health and Reproductive Health
    Premenstruation Syndrome
    Determinations of Fertility
    The Medicalization of Male Sexual Dysfunction
    Female Genital Cutting
    Bed-Sharing and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
    Reproductive Events and Breast Cancer Risk

    Chapter 7: Aging
    The Aging Body
    Physiological Theories of Aging
    Somatic Mutations
    Free Radicals
    Wear and Degeneration
    Evolutionary Theories of Aging
    The Aging Brain
    Alzheimer's Disease, Genes, and Evolution
    Extending Life? Caloric Restriction and an Okinawa Case Study
    Health, Illness, and the Cultural Construction of Aging
    The Future of Aging

    Chapter 8: Infectious Diseases: Pathogens, Hosts, and Evolutionary Interplay
    Koch's Postulates
    Taxonomy of Infectious Disease
    How Pathogens Spread
    Human Defenses Against Pathogens
    The Immune Response: A Brief Overview
    Human-Pathogen Coevolution
    Malaria: A Post-Agricultural Disease
    Evolutionary Changes in Pathogens
    Antibiotic Resistance
    Variation in Pathogen Virulence
    Allergies and Asthma: Relationship to Infectious Disease Exposure?

    Chapter 9: Globalization, Poverty, and Infectious Disease
    Emergent and Resurgent Diseases
    Social Transformations, Colonialism, and Globalizing Infections
    Colonialism and Disease in the Tropics
    Colonialism's Health Legacy
    Climate Change and Emerging/Resuring Diseases
    Genetic Adaptation to Cholera
    Dams and Infectious Disease
    Ebola: The Quintessential "Emerging Disease"
    Tuberculosis: Emerging and Resuring
    HIV/AIDS: A New(ish) Disease

    Chapter 10: Stress, Social Inequality, and Race and Ethnicity
    Biology of the Stress Response
    The Nervous System Stress Response
    The Hormonal Stress Response
    Why is Stress Different for Humans?
    Stress and Biological Normalcy?
    Stress and Health
    Cardiovascular Disease
    Immune Function
    Child Growth
    Inequality, Stress, and Health
    Relative Status
    Social Cohesion
    Social Support
    Race/Ethnicity, Racism/Discrimination and Health in the United States

    Chapter 11: Mental Health and Illness
    The Medical Model in Biocultural Context
    Culture-Bound Syndromes
    Eating Disorders
    Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Culture
    Mood Disorders
    Bipolar Disorder and Creativity
    The Evolution of Substance Use and Abuse

    Epilogue: The Relevance of Medical Anthropology
    What Can I Do Next If I am Interested in Medical Anthropology?
    Graduate Programs in Anthropology
    Public Health Programs
    Medical Schools and Clinical Health Professions
    Work in Governmental and Nongovernmental
    Health Agencies
    Genetic Counseling


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