The ways in which people respond to sickness differ greatly from society to society. In this book anthropologist and epidemiologist Robert A. Hahn examines how Western and non-Western cultures influence the definition, experience, and treatment of sickness.
Hahn begins by developing a definition of sickness that is based on the patient's perception of suffering and disturbance rather than on the physician's assessment of biomedical signs. After reviewing the principal theories that account for the forms of sickness and healing found in different historical and cultural situations, he explores the relevance of both anthropological and epidemiological approaches to sickness, focusing on the persistent gap between white and black infant mortality in the United States. Hahn then describes contemporary Western medicine as it might be seen by a visiting foreign anthropologist. He delineates the culture of Western medicine and portrays the world of one physician at work, traces the evolution of obstetrics since 1903 by analyzing the principal textbookWilliams Obstetricsthrough its first eighteen editions, and explores the gulf between physicians and their patients by examining the accounts of physicians who have written about their own illnesses. He concludes by proposing ways in which some of the ills of contemporary Western medicine might be remedied by applying anthropological principles to medical training and practice.