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Anthropology in public health. Bridging differences in culture and society.
  1. Public Health Department, Miguel Hernández University, Spain

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    Anthropology in public health. Bridging differences in culture and society. Robert A Hahn, ed. (Pp 384; price not stated). New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. ISBN: 0-19-512902-4 (cloth); 0-19-511955-X (paper).

    The stated objectives of this anthology are to provide examples, for both public health and kindred audiences, on how anthropology is useful, if not necessary, in public health and to describe that discipline, supplying, as well, resources for its further exploration and application. In doing so, the editor, an epidemiologist and renowned anthropologist, has chosen studies conducted in North and South America, as well as in Africa, Europe, Asia, and Oceania. The 16 chapters contained in the anthology have been structured in an introduction and six sections, each of them devoted to a general topic, namely: infectious diseases, cancer, pharmacy and nutrition, injuries and occupational health, community health, and finally, health institutions. The introduction gives us an insight into the main characteristics of anthropology as a scientific discipline so that public health workers can know about them. The following chapters try to show the relevant role of anthropology in tackling a wide range of public health problems. Generally speaking, the book fulfils its aim and all the works presented offer good evidence of the importance of anthropology for public health.

    But, although the authors and the editor are committed to showing how useful, if not necessary, it is to translate the knowledge of public health practices for its use in specific social and cultural settings, there are no clear examples of this in “at home” environments. All the chapters are devoted to international health, or to minorities, and none of them refers to the need for translation between public health experts and the layman in contexts where, in theory, there seem to be coincidences between both groups as regards public health concepts. Consequently, we do not find a critical examination of concepts in public health sciences as a golden standard. The absence of this kind of study can be considered a weakness of the book, as anthropology can also become a powerful tool in understanding non-compliance with preventive measures in Europe or in North America. This circumstance may be related both to the authors' background, all of whom received training in North American universities, and to their experience concerning work with other cultures. The absence of scholars belonging to several academic traditions is probably another weak point in this work. But on the whole, every public health worker will surely find in this book a very interesting and very useful illustration of the role of anthropology in public health.