Society for Medical Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
This paper re-examines critical theory in medical anthropology and the possibilities it opens up for practices beyond academic borders. In the U.S., with its gigantic apparatus of health care as industry, scholars who critically study biomedicine necessarily define themselves against institutional biomedicine. However, this perspective frequently minimizes the vast diversity, conflicts and contradictions among all of the entities that make up “biomedicine” and places the researcher outside of the conceptual system they describe. My experiences as a pharmacist/medical anthropologist in volunteer clinics serving lower-income and medically uninsured individuals in Washington state provides a tentative answer to how medical anthropologists may position themselves in relation to the wide-continuum of critical stances within biomedicine and facilitate truly collaborative care and transformation.
I compare the volunteer-created structure of two clinics, which in-turn created two very different spaces for patient transformation and self-care practices. Although overt acknowledgement of social conditions that contribute to poor health was foundational to both clinics, each clinic developed quite different relationships between volunteers and patients. Analysis of the two clinics shows how creating space for individual transformation is contingent upon creating space for reflexive, critical thinking that encompasses both clinicians and patients. I describe how the structure of one clinic, which addressed volunteer’s frustrations and barriers to providing “good care” in professional settings, was crucial in creating a space for patient transformation. This space provided an opportunity for myself as a medical anthropologist to also understand how creating space for transformation must apply to both medical clinicians and patients.