An MAQ Origin Story…

At the 2019 AAA meetings in Vancouver, SMA announced and awarded its first ever Hazel Weidman Award for Exemplary Service to the Society for Medical Anthropology, and the inaugural recipient was Alan Harwood. The introduction for the award delivered by then President Arachu Castro, and the acceptance speech by Professor Emeritus Harwood collectively offer a distinctive and seldom seen glimpse into the origins of our flagship journal, MAQ. For this reason, we wanted to share Castro and Harwood’s words with our readership.

There are, of course, many different and complementary origin stories for our field. Some stories start in the early days of anthropology, with W.H.R Rivers, E.E. Evans-Pritchard. These accounts track the rise of transcultural psychiatry, the cross-cultural comparison of disease and therapeutics, the turn to culture and personality studies, and the legacies of this work in the cultural study of the psyche. Other stories begin with the work of George Foster and Benjamin Paul and the Russel Sage Foundation, aimed at anthropological collaboration with international health development and the birth of formal training programs in medical anthropology. Still others recall collaborations with political economists of health and medical sociologists such as Vicente Navarro and Lesley Doyal, and the rise of critical postmodern theory that studied biomedicine as a site of power, knowledge and practice. The latter foci eventual steered anthropology toward partnerships with science and technology studies (STS). Finally, medical anthropologists also recall a clinically oriented anthropology and the paradigm building efforts of Arthur Kleinman, Byron Good, and Mary-Jo Good, whose legacies by circuitous twists and turns shaped current work on structural competency. As I said, our origins can be traced in many different ways.

No matter how one traces its conceptual lineages, what has remained central to the success of medical anthropology is the hard and thoughtful work that goes into the writing and sharing of our insights with the world through our beloved journal MAQ. Many individuals played crucial roles in the development of the Society and the original Newsletter that has now become our flagship journal, and all deserve recognition. One of these is Alan Harwood. On behalf of the MAQ team, I congratulate Dr. Harwood on his receipt of the Weidman Award, and thank him for his formative insights, enduring contributions, and for the legacies of our field that are found in print.

Your Editor, Vincanne Adams


Introduction to the Hazel Weidman Award for Exemplary Service to the Society for Medical Anthropology by Arachu Castro

We are pleased to announce that Dr. Alan Harwood is the first recipient of the Hazel Weidman Award for Exemplary Service to the Society for Medical Anthropology. Dr. Harwood, a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Massachusetts Boston, was the founding editor of Medical Anthropology Quarterly (MAQ) from 1986 to 1991. The history of the MAQ—the flagship journal of the Society for Medical Anthropology—is intertwined with that of the society and of the practice of the discipline. 

First published as the Medical Anthropology Newsletter in 1968 with 53 subscribers, it was conceived a few months earlier during the first meeting of the precursor of the SMA, known as the Organization of Medical Anthropology. The organization later changed its name to the Group of Medical Anthropology and, in 1970, to the Society for Medical Anthropology. In 1983, the newsletter was renamed the Medical Anthropology Quarterly, and conceived as an outlet for “communicating about ideas, new areas of inquiry, the emerging organization of the field, and business matters of the Society” (Harwood, 1986). 

When Dr. Harwood became MAQ editor in 1986, he introduced the publication of peer-reviewed, original research. The journal became a critical reference point for medical anthropological research, theory and practice, and it is very much because of the journal that medical anthropology became the discipline that we know today. Anthropologists who contributed to early volumes of MAQ remember Alan’s incredible generosity and encouragement as he shepherded them through the publication process and challenged them to clarify and expand their ideas. Alan at once laid the foundation and set the bar high for MAQ’s academic excellence. MAQ inspired many anthropologists to join the SMA.

From 2006, Alan served as a member of the SMA board, and took on a particularly demanding and low-profile role: he rewrote the by-laws of our society. He was both patient and persistent in this task, at a time when the society needed to regularize its governance and practices to meet the needs of its increasing membership.

We honor Alan Harwood’s contribution and present to him SMA’s first exemplary service award named after another one of our disciplines early champions, Hazel Weidman.

Hazel Weidman Award Acceptance Speech by Alan Harwood

I gratefully thank the Society for bestowing this award on me. It’s a special honor, because Hazel Weidman’s name is attached to it. Without her persistent, creative efforts, we wouldn’t have a Society for Medical Anthropology or, I believe, a recognized field of anthropology called medical anthropology.

Out of gratitude to Hazel for her unique contribution to our discipline, I think it appropriate today to recount (in abbreviated form) her role in its origins. The account also provides, I believe, a valuable case study in the founding of an academic profession.

While highlighting Weidman’s leadership in this process, I don’t want to leave you with the impression that this was a one-person crusade. Other anthropologists active in the effort early on were: Clifford Barnett, James Hester, Donald Kennedy, Benjamin Paul, Marion Pearsall, Steven Polgar, Norman Scotch, and Ailon Shiloh. It’s important to observe that none of these pioneers had an appointment in an anthropology department. All were working at what was considered the periphery of the profession at the time: medical schools, schools of public health, or the Public Health Service. Anthropology departments were not routinely hiring people with a specific research interest in health–related matters. Medical anthropology as a professional identity did not exist.

The aforementioned pioneers served on committees and politicked appropriately when called upon, while Weidman was the key strategist and organizer in the effort to have ‘medical anthropology’ recognized as a profession within anthropology. Her initial foray was to submit proposals to the program committees of the 1965 and 1966 AAA meetings for a symposium on the state of anthropological research and teaching on the topics of health and medicine. Both proposals were rejected.

After those rebuffs, Weidman and her collaborators’ efforts became more targeted to three goals:

  • forming an organizing committee (tentatively named the Steering Committee of the Group for Medical Anthropology), which Weidman chaired;
  • accumulating a list of AAA and SfAA members whose research and teaching touched on the topics of health and medicine; and
  • securing funding for meetings, mailings, a newsletter, and other expenses involved in the creation of an organization designed to further the development of a field called ‘medical anthropology.’

Hazel accomplished the second and third of these goals virtually single-handed. On behalf of the Steering Committee she took steps to organize a luncheon at the 1967 AAA meeting of people who considered medical anthropology to be their primary field of specialization. In the invitation she also asked recipients to provide her with contact information for other anthropologists with specializations similar to their own. With these names she generated a pyramid-scheme that yielded a preliminary list of likely members of the future association of ‘medical anthropologists.’

To support these organizational activities, Hazel sought funding from several foundations; the ones I know about were The Research Institute for the Study of Man [sic] and The Milbank Memorial Fund.

And here I have to admit to a dirty secret of my own. I do this not out of boy-scout’s honor (I never was one), but because it elucidates the context in which this push to professionalize medical anthropology was taking place. For various reasons, which are beside the point here, the 1960s and early 1970s saw an upswing in funding for higher education. Many private institutions expanded, and new public universities were founded. Academic jobs—if you can believe it—were quite plentiful, and the number of institutions offering graduate degrees in anthropology burgeoned.

All this expansion led to two important developments within the anthropological profession. First, it led to the development of new, named specialties, particularly within social/cultural anthropology. Subfields called ‘political anthropology,’ ‘economic anthropology,’ ‘urban anthropology,’ etc. emerged, each of which trended toward professionalization. Moreover, departments began to create positions for these new specialists.

The increase in the total number of anthropologists with PhDs and the rise of new specialties led, secondly, to a restructuring of the AAA, specifically the creation of sections. This change formally recognized the new specializations and provided their practitioners with groupings that were smaller and therefore more personal than the AAA, which had expanded to thousands of members.

To get back to my dirty secret: in the late 1960s I was a newly minted PhD, carrying out research with a comprehensive primary health-care program in the South Bronx and not paying much attention to developments at AAA. Out of the blue I received a phone call from a staff member at the Milbank Memorial Fund. The caller described in some detail a plan by a group of anthropologists working in medical settings to start a newsletter as part of their larger goal of developing an association of ‘medical anthropologists’. I was against the increasing fractionation of the discipline, because I saw it as moving us away from the larger, central questions of our discipline in order to benefit careerist interests. So for that reason I told Milbank I thought both the newsletter and the larger plan were a bad idea.

That plan did, however, find support from the Research Institute for the Study of Man and allowed Hazel to ensure that the new profession had a medium for communication among its members. The Medical Anthropology Newsletter, which launched publication in 1968 with Hazel as its first editor, provided that medium.

Needless to say, putting my finger in the dike did nothing to stop the surge of specialization in social/cultural anthropology. Hazel—joined by several hundred likeminded ‘medical anthropologists’–created the Group for Medical Anthropology, which ultimately became the Society for Medical Anthropology and in 1975 received official status as a Section of the AAA.  

This rather long prefatory history, though, returns me to my expression of gratitude to this Society for selecting me to receive its first-ever award for “exemplary service.” And now I must share another secret with you: I rarely thought of my efforts in founding MAQ as exemplary service. Yes, it wasn’t ever a pleasure to pester professional colleagues for their overdue manuscript reviews or to figure out how to work with the writer of a submission that contained interesting, fruitful ideas but was written in nearly unintelligible, disordered prose. However, I was teaching at an institution that didn’t have a graduate program in anthropology.  Editing the journal let me work with advanced graduate students, often helping them create what would become their first published article. It also allowed me to interact with colleagues from around the world. I became privileged to read prepublication accounts of their latest research and ideas—even sometimes to help them clarify how they presented their work.

So today I sincerely thank the Society for the Weidman award, but I want you to know that founding and editing your scholarly journal was actually a pleasure and a privilege. I thank you doubly, for that opportunity and for the award.

Author’s Note: Hazel Weidman’s detailed account of the founding of the Society for Medical Anthropology in the Medical Anthropology Newsletter (Origins: Reflections on the history of the SMA and its official publication, 1986,17.5: 115-124) served as a major source for the historical section of this talk.