Medical Anthropology Wiki

Welcome to the Medical Anthropology Wiki, where you can learn about important terms and concepts, methods, and figures within medical anthropology, as well as find information on health problems. This wiki, written and edited by faculty and graduate students at the University of South Florida, was founded in April 2010. It features 96 entries, and has received over 150,000 site visits from 50,000 visitors in 56 countries.

Each entry provides a definition or overview, examples, guidance on history and relevant research, and links to media. Alongside the basic text and references found on sites like Wikipedia, the med anth wiki provides social media resources for each entry, with relevant videos, photographs, and other types of new media.

You can find the entire list of entries to the left.

You can also browse by category by choosing a link below:
  1. Behavioral Health
  2. Biomedicine
  3. Chronic Disease
  4. Danielle Rosen
  5. Disability Studies
  6. Environmental Health
  7. Figures
  8. Global Health
  9. Health Disparity
  10. Infectious Disease
  11. Maternal/Child Health
  12. Mental Health
  13. Methods
  14. Nutrition
  15. Science and Technology
  16. Theory
  17. analysis
  18. bioethics
  19. content
  20. ethics
  21. figures/medical Anthropologists
  22. method
  23. recorded material
  24. social science
  25. term

Terms – Basic concepts, theories, and areas of research within medical anthropology

Figures – People who have made important contributions to medical anthropology

Health Problems – Diseases, illnesses and health issues, with both basic information and medical anthropology research

Methods – Research methods, with an overview, step-by-step guidance, and references

Coverage varies by domain. Figures, health problems, and methods offer partial coverage at present, guided largely by graduate student research interests. The terms offers a more comprehensive list. Still, there is work to be done in each area!

At present, this site is run through the University of South Florida. While there are plans to eventually accept outside editors, at present the site is being built up by graduate students and faculty at USF. That means that requests to join this wiki are not being considered, though that might change in the future.

If you do find errors in content or identify much needed improvements in entries, please contact me at dlende at usf dot edu. I will do my best to ensure your input is incorporated into the site.

Finally, if you have general suggestions on how to improve the site, or want to know more about the project overall, also contact me at dlende at usf dot edu.

-Daniel Lende, University of South Florida


Previously we provided a comprehensive list of short definitions for each term on this site. This feature has not been updated for methods, figures, and health problems, as the list below already seems long. Look for updates here at some point on new features, plans, and information on this wiki.

Alternative Medicine: A category of healing practices that falls outside of the realm of a conventional health system. Often times paired with complementary medicine.

Behavioral Health: The intersection of human behavior and health, generally focusing on areas like eating, substance use, violence

Biocultural: A theoretical lens through which biological and cultural ideas and data are integrated.

Biomedicine : The predominant medical theory that has spread through out the world that emphasizes a primary focus of human biology, physiology and more specifically pathophysiology. Biomedicine views disease as having unique biological causes within the body.

Biopolitical: The realm of politics and government policy which intersect with the biological aspect of health in people's lives.

Complementary Medicine: A broad term that describes health systems or practices outside of the dominant health system of a given culture.

Critical Medical Anthropology: A theoretical approach focuses on the political economy of health and health care.

Disability Studies: A contemporary, interdisciplinary academic field of inquiry that focuses on the history, contributions, and experience of perceived mentally or pysically disabled persons. The term "disability" can refer to many states of health, is socially constructed, and often contested.

Embodiment: The focus on bodily experience and the social and political aspects of body as a central part of anthropological theory and ethnographic research

Emic: An anthropological description of ethnography presented from the perspective of a member of the culture being studied; often referred to as the "insider's" perspective

Epidemiology : The study of the causes, distribution, and control of diseases at the population level. Epidemiology forms the core of local public health policy as well as the study of health disparities.

Ethnography: Either a method of research that relies heavily on qualitative methods, or the report that comes from this research.

Ethnomedicine: A subfield of medical anthropology concerning the comparative study of medicine based on the beliefs and practices of various human groups.

Etic : Etic refers to a description of a behavior or belief by an outside, objective observer, in terms that can be applied to other cultures. An etic account can be understood by all, regardless of preconceived cultural notions.

Fitness: A measure of evolutionary success, generally focused on the success of particular genetic variants over evolutionary time

Folk Illness: A type of health problem recognized in a local population that generally does not match up with disease definitions from biomedicine yet contains a culturally recognizable set of symptoms and often an accompanying social etiology and prescribed treatments

Globalization: The movement and process which has made the world a "smaller place:" includes the merging of cultures, economic systems, technology, legal/evironmental policy, healthcare systems, military prowess, and the creolization of many different ethnicities.

Illness: describes how a person experiences being unwell by examining the role that the individual and the problem play in society and culture, as opposed to looking at the situation through a biological perspective.

Infectious Disease: Diseases caused by biological agents (organisms and viruses) that spread among populations through infecting a host and then using the host's resources to pass to another host

Life History Theory: seeks to explain the variation in the timing of development, fertility, and death of living organisms.

Malnutrition: a condition in which the body receives an insufficient, excessive or imbalanced amount of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients needed to maintain healthy tissue and organ function.

Medical Pluralism: The existence of multiple healing systems within a culture.

Medicalization: The process by which a previously normal or nonmedical behavioral or health condition becomes a medical issue or disease, therefore one studied and treated by medical professionals.

Nocebo Effect: A nocebo effect is an ill effect caused by the suggestion or belief that something is harmful.

Placebo: A usually pharmacologically inert preparation prescribed more for the mental relief of the patient than for its actual effect on the disorder. The placebo effect is the measurable, observable, or felt improvement in health or behavior not attributable to a medication or invasive treatment that has been administered.

Qualitative: Qualitative research involves long-term, inductive, and in-depth cultural analysis that relies on fieldwork and methods such as case study, observation, and ethnography (interaction, participation, interviews). It is systematic, yet more subjective than its numerically and statistically dependent counterpart, quantitative research.

Race: A form of social classification, often based on skin color and other external features, that is often used to justify forms of social inequality and is tied to ideas about biological determinism

Sick Role: A socially recognized set of different expectations and obligations for individuals with a socially recognized disease or illness.

Stress: The response of an organism to its environment, both natural and social, in ways that prepare it to deal with immediate allocation of energy and perceived or real threats to the organism's survival, reproduction, and long-term success

Syndemic: The occurrence of multiple medical (i.e. epidemics), economic, social, or environmental problems in a community or region that work together to create greater adverse problems.