legitimacy. Research here shows how patients often resist biomedical responses that are perceived as undermining and delegitimating.
More recently, this area of research has expanded well beyond biomedically defined conditions to include a variety of forms of violence – structural, political, domestic – that represent significant threats to health. Here researchers of violence such as Veena Das (1995) have shown how different societal idioms of those institutions authorized to deal with social problems – legal, welfare, religious, and of course medical – construct distinctive objects of programs and policies that not only differ greatly but that coerce different courses of health and disease and outcomes of these conditions.
Perhaps the largest field of anthropological inquiry has examined the varieties of community healing systems that parallel state institutions. Studies of herbalists, shamans, and other folk practitioners (and practices) illustrate how experience is manipulated, how meaning is negotiated, and how illness comes to serve some societal ends such as social control, cultural remembering, and political resistance. The point being that the collective significance of illnesses goes beyond individual and even familial concerns and plays a role in how societies remember, how social reality is legitimated, and how social worlds change.
The anthropology of health and medicine largely began as an applied field. There continues to be important segments of the field that seek application in public health and biomedical settings and in the policy arena. Such applied work classically demonstrated that health beliefs could either facilitate or become a substantial barrier to implementing policies and progress (Paul 1955). More recently, anthropologists have engaged the non- governmental, administrative, and political dimensions of international health agencies and the policy development process indicating how community organization can positively inform health and social programs in arenas such as HIV/AIDS prevention, cancer or infectious disease control, and family planning (Hahn 1999). Hence, anthropology has moved from a stance of critique of application to a stance of generating novel applications combining anthropological knowledge and public health technologies to enhance health.
3. Culture of biomedicine
Distinctions between health and disease or illness are patterned according to norms. Norms of health and disease often emerge through a combination of statistics patterns, public consensus around desirable health outcomes, and social definitions and responses to deviance (Mechanic 1997). The extent to which biomedical norms have achieved a position of preeminence in health care systems and definitions of disease is undeniable. Biomedicine’s success in eradicating certain diseases and prolonging life shows that norms, however value-laden and socially constructed they may be, can indeed be health- enhancing (DelVecchio Good 1995). Yet anthropological studies have questioned