The Idea of Health: History, Medical Pluralism, and the Management of the Body in Emilia-Romagna, Italy


Basic beliefs about health in north central Italy derive from an approach to the personal management of the body that is not just reactive but also proactive. This article examines a complex field of health factors in relation to historical processes and a system of medical pluralism. Rapid demographic and social changes over the past century have brought an accommodation of ancient medical beliefs to more recent germ-oriented principles. An enduring belief in the permeability of the body leads to an emphasis on moderation in personal conduct to prevent debilitation, whether by atmospheric insults, microbial infection, or modern-day miasmas such as pollution or additives in food. The idea of health itself is analyzed to show how biomedicine varies across societies and how historical processes have shaped contemporary cultural patterns and led to generational continuities and differences in beliefs and behaviors. This information may also improve interactions between patients and health care providers.