Medical Anthropology in Ecological Perspective

Ann McElroy, Patricia K. Townsend

Sixth Edition • November 18, 2014 • 386 pages

Print ISBN: 9780813348872 • $52.00 USD$67.50 CAN

Ebook ISBN: 9780813348889 • $33.99 USD$33.99 CAN

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Global environmental change and recent worldwide infectious-disease outbreaks make the ecological perspective of medical anthropology more important a field of study than ever. In this premier teaching text, authors Ann McElroy and Patricia K. Townsend integrate biocultural, environmental, and evolutionary approaches to the study of human health, providing a complete and authoritative ecological perspective that is essential for interpreting medical anthropology. Research by biological anthropologists, archaeologists, and paleopathologists illuminates the history and prehistory of disease, along with coverage of contemporary health issues, both local and global. This sixth edition is thoroughly revised and updated, with expanded discussion on the interaction of environment and infectious disease; new material on climate change, globalization, and the effects of war on physical and mental health; and an entirely new chapter on ethics in community health and medical anthropology. Medical Anthropology in Ecological Perspective captures the essentials of the discipline—and covers its ever-changing topics, trends, and developments—in an engaging, accessible way.

Ann McElroy, Ph.D., Associate Professor Emerita of Anthropology, directed applied medical anthropology graduate concentrations at the University at Buffalo, SUNY, from 1985 to 2013. She has done research in Nunavut, Canada, for the past forty-seven years and is the author of Nunavut Generations: Change and Continuity in Baffin Island Inuit Communities (Waveland Press, 2008). Other current research interests include culture and disability, traumatic grief, and historical trauma in indigenous societies.
Patricia K. Townsend, Ph.D., is Research Associate Professor at the University at Buffalo. Her most recent book is Environmental Anthropology: From Pigs to Policies (Waveland Press, Second Edition, 2009). She has done fieldwork in Papua New Guinea, Peru, and at Superfund sites in the United States. After several years of college teaching, she has spent much of her career applying anthropology to non-governmental organizations, including church and refugee agencies. Her current writing projects relate her Papua New Guinea research to broader issues of human and environmental health.

About the Authors and Contributors

Chapter One: The Ecology Of Health And Disease
Environment, Culture, and Health
Profile: Arctic Adaptations by Ann McElroy
A Working Model of Ecology and Health
Recommended Readings

Chapter Two: Research Methods In Health Problems
Anthropological Approaches to the Use of Medicinal Plants
Bio-Environmental Data
Profile: Cannibal Mourners by Patricia K. Townsend
Clinical Data
Epidemiological Data
Social and Cultural Data
Recommended Readings

Chapter Three: Human Biocultural Diversity And Health
Evolution and Biological Diversity
Human Immune Systems and Defense against Disease
Mutation, Genetic Change, and Disease Resistance
Profile: Malaria And African Agriculture by Ann McElroy
Evolution and Medicine
Skin Color and Adaptation
Recommended Readings

Chapter Four: The Prehistory Of Disease
Paleopathology: The Study of Disease in Prehistory
Nutrition and the Transition to Agriculture
Profile: Dry Bones: Health in Southwestern Prehistory by Patricia K. Townsend
Beyond the Skeleton: Icemen and Mummies
Daily Life in the Past: Clues from the Skeleton
Violence and Inequality
The Emergence of Cities
Forensic anthropology: contemporary applications
Recommended Readings

Chapter Five: Emerging Diseases Of The 21st Century
The Ecology of Disease in the Anthropocene
Profile: The Medical Ecology of Cholera in Ecuador by Linda Whiteford
Emerging Diseases in Aging Populations
Recommended Readings

Chapter Six: Changing Population and Environmental Hazards
The Study of Population
Profile: Stress, Alcohol, and Demographic Change in Northern Siberia by John P. Ziker
Environmental Trauma in Industrial Societies
Recommended Readings

Chapter Seven: Human Reproduction as a Biocultural Process
Evolutionary and Ecological Influences on Reproduction
Profile: Three Birth Stories by
Care Providers in Pregnancy and Birth
Birth Alternatives
Maternal Mortality
Towards an Ecology of Birth
Recommended Readings

Chapter Eight: The Ecology of Nutrition
Human Nutritional Requirements
Subsistence by Hunting and Gathering
Subsistence in the Humid Tropics
Profile: Local Differences in Iodine Deficiency Goiter in the Western Himalaya by Richard V. Lee
Industrial Agriculture
The Anthropology of Food and Cooking
Food, Medicine, or Drug?
Recommended Readings

Chapter Nine: The Global Economy of Food: Stuffed or Starved
Globalization and Food Systems
The Obesity Epidemic: Alternative Interpretation
Nutrition and Child Growth
Food Insecurity
Profile: Famine in Ethiopia by Patricia K. Townsend
Recommended Readings

Chapter Ten: Stress, Trauma, and Mental Illness
Responding to Trauma: the Stress Concept
Understanding the Physiology of Stress
Can Stress Induce Healing?
Biomarkers of Stress
Stress and Psychiatric Disorders
Profile: Legacies of War by
Culture-Bound Syndromes
Resilience: A Buffer Against Stress
Stress and Evolutionary Adaptedness
Recommended Readings

Chapter Eleven: Health Resources for Vulnerable Populations
Change and Vulnerability
Repercussions of Culture Contact on Health in the Arctic
Profile: Culture Change and Inuit Health: Two Families by Ann McElroy
Health Care for Displaced Populations
Medical Pluralism
Health Disparities
Living with Disability and Coping with Vulnerability
Recommended Readings

Chapter Twelve: Health Costs and Benefits of Globalization
Spirit Possession in a Malaysian Factory
Globalization and Health
Evaluating the Health Effects of Agricultural Development
Strategies for Improving Health
Paying the Costs of Industrial Development
Profile: Hazardous Waste and the Mohawks at Akwesasne by Patricia K. Townsend
Recommended Readings

Chapter Thirteen: First, Do No Harm: Ethics in Medical Anthropology
Medical Anthropology and Bioethics
Profile: Using Anthropological Methods to Understand Condom Use for STI Prevention in the Inner City by Pamela I. Erickson
Difficulties in Following Bioethical Regulations in Anthropological Research
Ethical Dilemmas in the Field
Ethical Regulation and Conflicts in Anthropology
Activism, Engaged Anthropology, and Participatory Research
Recommended Readings

Chapter Fourteen: Applying Medical Anthropology in Health Careers
Medical Anthropologists in International Health
Career Paths in Medical Anthropology
Profile: Learning Field Methods in Costa Rica by Nancy Romero-Daza and David A. Himmelgreen
Recommended Readings


“Medical Anthropology in Ecological Perspective presents human health and nutrition from a perspective that recognizes the overlapping and synergistic functions of biology, behavior, and environment. A classic in medical anthropology, this remains one of the fundamental texts in the field.”

—Dale L. Hutchinson, University of North Carolina

“A major strength of this comprehensive and accessible text is its demonstration of the relationship between physiology and cultural experiences of disease and illness.”

—William McKellin, University of British Columbia

“McElroy and Townsend’s text captures the breadth and depth of medical anthropology, expertly weaving content with case studies. They carefully highlight how power and access to resources are fundamental concerns in anthropological and ecological approaches to health and illness. An excellent resource for students interested in biocultural approaches to understanding our current health and healthcare challenges.”

—K. Jill Fleuriet, University of Texas San Antonio

“The extensive use of profiles as illustrative case studies, often incorporating the field experiences of the anthropologist, humanizes and concretizes abstract ideas raised in the chapters—making those concepts more understandable for students.”

—Sheila Cosminsky, Professor Emerita, Rutgers University, Camden

Praise for previous editions:

“I have used Medical Anthropology in Ecological Perspective on numerous occasions and it is close to my ideal for a textbook in anthropology. Its perspectives in ecology, evolution, and biocultural interpretation are in the forefront of the biomedical and social sciences. I should be proud to have written it myself.”

—Michael Little, Binghamton University, SUNY

“McElroy and Townsend’s textbook is a classic, and remains the best overall introduction to medical anthropology available. It is engagingly and clearly written, covering a broad range of topics from biocultural and evolutionary perspectives. I wouldn’t consider using any other text to introduce students to this fascinating field of study.”

—Katherine A. Dettwyler, University of Delaware

“The ecological perspective has proven its utility for understanding health and healing across cultures and through the major health transitions. The new edition of McElroy and Townsend retains the classic ecological approach while updating and expanding treatment of the major topics adding illustrative and contemporary case studies; it continues to be in the very first rank of medical anthropology texts.”

—Lawrence Schell, University at Albany, SUNY

“Medical Anthropology in Ecological Perspective is one of those rare texts that should be required reading for students in medical anthropology, medical sociology and medical school.”

—Heléna Ragoné, University of Massachusetts

“McElroy and Townsend continue to provide a complete and authoritative ecological perspective that is essential for interpreting medical anthropology. They have been able to capture the essentials of the discipline in an interesting and informative manner.”

—George Armelagos, Emory University

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