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Exploring Medical Anthropology, Thesis Paper Example

Pages: 1

Words: 600

Thesis Paper

The text in this chapter discusses the theories and concepts of social and cultural authority as they are described by sociologist Paul Starr.  Starr essentially defines these concepts as they are related to the roles of a subordinate consenting to authority figures.  Just as this consenting behavior exists in business, it also exists in the field of medicine.  According to Starr’s examples and explanations further developed by the author of the text, the patients are essentially the subordinates while the authority figures are the professional medical providers.  These authority figures obtain their authority through the two major conditions that Starr has outlined – social authority and cultural authority.  “Social authority involves the control of action through the giving of commands, while cultural authority entails the construction of reality through definitions of fact and value” (Joralemon 69).  Starr continues to define these sources of authority by stating that social authority may only be limited to social actors, such as doctors, nurses or other medical professionals.  On the other hand, cultural authority can be given through cultural objects such as medical journals, published documentation or even the law that grants power to these individuals.

The text utilizes examples of the Peruvian Curanderos and Biomedical Healers to state the presence of social and cultural authority in each scenario.  However, there are multiple other examples that may be chosen to showcase the existence of each form of authority in the medical community.  First of all, a modern dentist would be considered using social authority when he or she provides patients with a detailed analysis of what is causing a toothache or steps that should be taken to provide better care for the teeth.  This example shows that the dentist is clearly providing the patients with commands that show his or her social authority.  Social authority, as Starr described, is typically limited to the social actor within a community or environment.  It is important to explain that this does not necessarily need to be a professionally trained or educated medical expert.  A witch doctor in the time of the Vikings would provide commands to the members of each tribe in order to determine the health, longevity of power and even the outcome of battles.  The social authority is present mainly when a member of society is able to provide individuals with commands, and these commands are taken seriously and followed because of their perceived importance.  In summary, social authority is probably best suited for indigenous healers because it does not require official medical training or education; it simply requires having social status to deliver commands that are to be followed.

Cultural authority, on the other hand, is utilized more by Western Biomedical professionals because they require definition of fact and value to create a reality for subordinates.  A doctor must create a case of evidence to present to a patient whenever a diagnosis and recommendation for treatment is provided.  A cancer patient would need to be told the test results by the expert physician in order to create the reality for the patient that there is a sincere medical ailment that must be addressed.  Furthermore, the physician’s educational background, training and skill sets would then be utilized to develop treatment options based on the best available methods and knowledge within the industry.  This is much more formal and requires concrete knowledge and information to be used whenever working with patients for any and all ailments.  Unlike social authority actors, cultural authority figures must utilize fact and value in their diagnoses and treatment methods.

References

Joralemon, Donald. Exploring Medical Anthropology. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2010. Print.

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