Medical Anthropology: Toward a Third Moment in Social Science?

Abstract

This article about medical anthropology was inspired by the work of Pierre Bourdieu, specifically, his efforts to reconcile the antinomy of a “social structuralist” and a “cultural constructivist” perspective. These perspectives are often opposed in the literature, but in Bourdieu’s view, human life cannot be studied without taking into account both how individuals are situated within and constrained by social structures and how those individuals construct an understanding of and impose meaning on the world around them. I argue that the special subject matter of medical anthropology—human health—demands that a synthetic approach be taken in our theory and research. I illustrate this argument with examples from my own research on social and cultural factors associated with blood pressure, and I point to other examples of this synthesis in medical anthropology. The results of this research hold promise for the continuing refinement of culture theory.