Letter from the Editor

I am delighted to be taking over as Editor of Medical Anthropology Quarterly, the AAA’s flagship journal for our field.  I do so with gratitude to Lance Gravlee for his four years of diligent leadership and his extraordinary effort in generating the MAQ website that is launching simultaneously with my editorship.  Thanks also to Yasemin Akdas (editorial assistant), Carole Bernard (who will stay on as managing editor) and the team at Wiley, for all their hard work.

I fondly remember the first issues of the journal when it was no more than a few short pages, a photocopied and folded newsletter. This may date me, but younger generations of readers might delight in knowing of the ‘zines’ that came before.  Taking stock of how the journal began and where it is today gives rise to great applause in my mind.  It is, in this sense, an honor to take on this responsibility with all of its challenges and rewards. I hope I can serve our journal and our field well.

Medical Anthropology is an extraordinary invention.  It has given shape to a kind of anthropology that cares deeply about its impact and relevance in the worlds of health, healing and human experience but also one that helps us consistently to rethink how we do anthropology, as well as social science and medical science, more widely.  Our best work creates ripples of methodological impact far beyond the particular communities where we do fieldwork and/or with whom we hope to create positive interventions.  The distillation of these contributions have made for a ripe set of concerns of late, some of which I hope will be debated, discussed and ethnographically explored in the pages of our journal in the years to come.

A quick tour through some of our contemporary ethnographic concerns points to the dual (and inextricable) focus on our theoretical methods and our impacts. Take the growing interest in, on the one hand, macro issues like climate change and environmental health, free trade and neoliberal forms of development, bioclinical expertise and global health. Compare these with, on the other hand, micro studies of science, genetics, the microbiome, the experience of addiction, of diabetic metabolism, or life ‘beyond’ itself.

How we chose our topics in medical anthropology frequently over-determines our urgency over needing to help make things different, if we can.  Still, how we try to make things different can occur in a variety of ways.  This ethical proposition –and I think it is shared in our ‘tribe’ – produces multiple and sometimes oppositional results: for some, it leads to Participatory Research, Engaged Anthropology, to forming NGOs or working within institutions beyond the academy.  In these sites, medical anthropologists work productively with teams of clinicians, scientists and policy-makers to improve care, rectify structural inequalities and advance positive health outcomes.

For others, this ethic pulls us toward an anthropology that questions our foundational analytics.  Consider, for instance, a medical anthropology that goes beyond the human, beyond humanitarianism, and questions the very rationale of taken-for-granted forms of intervention. Indeed, new ethnographic interests in thinking ontologically rather than epistemologically pave the way for methods that question the centrality of the human and even the social as an ethical proposition that goes beyond the messes we have created in the Anthropocene, looking instead toward meta-concerns of our planet, our ecosystem, and our very survival. Various attempts to move beyond the centrality of the human are both refreshing and challenging to a field that has been long committed to (if not built upon) humanist frames of reference.  These are just a few of the sorts of things we talk about in medical anthropology today, and they only begin to scratch the surface of the rich terrain of work in our large and impressive profession.

I also want to mention something about the journal itself.  Medical Anthropology Quarterly sits in a prestigious place in the landscape of print journals in our field, offering peer-review publications in a growing ocean of digital forms of scholarship.  While both formats offer rich possibilities for communicating amongst ourselves and with wider audiences, peer review still remains exceedingly important. I like to think of peer review as providing ‘slow cooked’ as opposed to ‘salad bar’ scholarship. (Some will remember my penchant for the slow food metaphor for research). The slow cooked meal is only produced after a long process of stewing and brewing, with ingredients that come anonymously from one’s peers to make the final product the best it can be.  Still, the salad bar is nutritious, quick, and offers a wider variety of choices. More accessible and more fluid in its architectures of review, internet-based news, blogs, and public conversations are a great compliment to the heartily-steeped peer reviewed articles.  What is exciting about MAQ is that we will now offer both — a full meal, so to speak, with salad and main course.  Take a look at our MAQ Website at medanthroquarterly.org.

Our MAQ website is very exciting.  Our print journal, still published through Wiley, Inc., produces “print” versions of peer-reviewed articles that are available to subscribers through the Wiley website.  Peer reviewed articles (in copyedited form) are also available on the Open Access Repository, accessible through the MAQ website.  The MAQ website also features:

  • Access to Early View (typeset) versions of peer-reviewed articles.
  • Book Reviews, managed by our new book reviews Editor, Alex Nading (University of Edinburgh).
  • Current Issues page offering public access to abstracts and photos for each peer reviewed essay, along with supplementary materials provided by authors (photo essays, interviews, media links, etc.). Our editorial assistant, Nadia Gaber (UCSF/UC Berkeley), will manage these.
  • Two MAQ Blog streams. Yes, two.
    • The first, Critical Care, is a public-oriented, outward-focused blog attending to urgent matters of relevance in the journal and outside of the journal. This blog is managed by Theresa MacPhail (Stevens Institute of Technology) and offers opportunities for multiple forms of debate, inquiry, communication.
    • The other, Second Spear, is a more inward-focused, location for curated essays on topical themes brought forward by our readers. This includes AAA panels, workshops, think groups that want to ‘publish’ short form summaries of their work with a quick turnaround. Second Spear will be managed by the team (myself, Theresa MacPhail, Nadia Gaber and associate editors on the MAQ board).
  • Finally, we have a Twitter feed (medanthroq) and a Facebook page (Medical Anthropology Quarterly) that can be used to spread the word about our journal and online publishing. We hope that you will follow, share and facilitate conversation within and beyond our very active scholarly community.

I have kept my copies of the early Medical Anthropology Quarterly newsletters, precursors to our beloved journal. They sit at the front of my ‘publications’ shelf even though I wasn’t an author and so, technically, they are not my publications.  At the same time, I like to think that our flagship journal is in many ways our collective publication.  I hope that you will agree, not only in the sense that MAQ will serve as a resource for you but also that you will be willing to serve MAQ (when we ask for reviews, comments, blog posts and more) in the years ahead.  Here’s to a great publication and a great profession.