domingo, marzo 01, 2009

Rubel and Moore (2001) The contribution of Medical Anthropology to a Comparative Study of Culture: Susto and Tuberculosis

Rubel and Moore. 2001. The contribution of Medical Anthropology to a Comparative Study of Culture: Susto and Tuberculosis. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 15(4):440-454.

In this article the authors want to re-think different approach to the study of both susto and tuberculosis via cross-cultural comparisons. They’ve found three types of cross-cultural comparisons, one that compares different groups sharing the same region, another that compares within a society, and a third one that find worldwide comparisons. In relation to susto, or the state of being asustado, they’ve found that “among Latin America’s indigenous peoples” (a little bit too over-encompassing) susto appears when an essence is “thought to be captive because the patient, wittingly or not, has offended the spirit guardians of earth, a river, a pond, the forest, or collectivities of animals, birds, or fish” (442). I think that this explanation excludes other forms of susto according to indigenous peoples in which certain forms of witchcraft or even torture can trigger it. For the authors, in the case of non-indigenous peoples the cause of susto is a fright. In both cases the therapeutic effort is concentrated in returning the spirit essence to the body. In any case, the authors concluded that susto should be considered more as a syndrome caused by profound stress and with a high rate of mortality.
In relation to Tuberculosis the authors (with the help of more researchers) developed a study in which they could compare variations among gender, gender roles, and health knowledge in a single society (Mexico). They’ve found that, in comparison with the widespread symptoms of susto, tuberculosis is a very confined condition. The common symptoms are constant cough, bloody sputum, night sweats, weight loss, and fatigue. The research they’ve conducted was designed to understand how working-class Mexicans understand and react to respiratory disease. They wanted to understand people’s knowledge of the disease, they defined knowledge as “understanding of the causes, implications, and treatments of respiratory conditions that result from everyday experience with them, regardless of their biomedical acceptability” (446). They used “humoral” characteristics because they’ve found that in Mexico “hot and cold humoral dichotomy” is still very important to explain ill conditions. What I do not understand of this study is that at the beginning they’ve found that humoral characteristics were important and they used them in the surveys, and then in their conclusions they say that “these working-class Mexicans do, indeed, share a humoral model of respiratory health conditions” (447), but wasn’t this what they exactly went to look for!? Another conclusion they’ve made is that women have a stronger understanding of respiratory conditions through humoral qualities than men. I don’t quite understand the need to made so many surveys to come up with conclusions that were already included in the hypothesis. Perhaps they could have done more qualitative studies and come up with new information and not information they already pre-filtered.

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