Key Theories from Critical Medical Anthropology for Public Health Research. Part II: Medicine in the Social System, Medicine as a Social System



social anthropology, medical anthropology, social theory, qualitative research, public health, illness, explanatory models, structural violence, identity, biopower, Foucault


This article summarizes four significant theoretical concepts from the field of Critical Medical Anthropology in two parts: in the first part, biopower/discipline and explanatory models; in the second, structural violence, and identity politics and biological citizenship. The four subjects reviewed here have been chosen for their importance to our understanding of human behaviors related to health and illness, as well as for the impact that they can have on theory, research, and practice in the field of public health. These critical theories can provide new ways of thinking about professional roles, medical decisions, disease diagnosis and etiology, treatment adherence, prevention messaging, and all sorts of health-related behaviors and systems of understanding. They can also help public health researchers shed light on the human beliefs and activities that shape patterns of disease within and across populations. Whether a research question is being formulated or research findings are being analyzed, the critical social theories outlined here can foster a more holistic understanding of the human element in any public health project.

Author Biography

Jennifer J. Carroll, University of Washington

Jennifer J. Carroll is a doctoral candidate in the joint PhD/MPH program at the University of Washington, earning her degrees in Anthropology and Epidemiology.


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