The need for an ethnomedical science

Science  19 Sep 1975:
Vol. 189, Issue 4207, pp. 969-975
DOI: 10.1126/science.1220008


Ethnomedicine is an intellectual area which embraces theoretical concerns that are relevant to both the social and biological sciences. The relation which exists between disease, social behavior, and human adaptation constitutes the primary subject matter of ethnomedicine. This relation is examined in terms of man's unique capacities for symbolization and culture. Since ethnomedical generalizations explain how social groups deal with a generic disease, they can be used to examine contemporary problems which involve the organization and practice of medicine as well as problems that stem from relations of the medical system with other subsystems in the group. Recasting contemporary social problems in this way may help to clarify their roots and sources (13,28). In focusing on fundamental properties of disease in man, ethnomedicine can also help to clarify the effects and meanings of disease and thereby make its control more rational. A theory of disease, an ultimate aim of ethnomedical inquiry, will serve as an explanatory device with wide-ranging applications.