Reviewed by: Society for Medical Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: Health
Secondary Theme: Science
In the years since Laura Nader’s Up the Anthropologist: Perspectives gained from Studying Up (1972), there have been repeated calls to put anthropological tools to work in institutional settings (Gusterson 1997). Anthropologists have made efforts to study various aspects of powerful American healthcare institutions, including psychiatric hospitals (Rhodes 1991), the end of life in American hospitals (Kaufman 2005), and health insurance systems (Mulligan and Casteñeda 2017).
For medical anthropologists, conducting ethnography in bastions of biomedicine and other health-related institutions can be a particularly challenging endeavor. First, barriers to access and gatekeepers can force the anthropologist into strategic maneuvering within the institution. Second, differences in culture, methods, and objectives can leave anthropological work at odds with the goals of the institution and the people situated within. The workings of these institutions can be framed as impermeable to direct observation; they can seem “boring” (c.f. 2017 AAA Roundtable: “Studying ‘boring’ things”). Furthermore, “participation” on the part of the ethnographer may be limited by training, licensing or credentialing requirements. The shape and intensity of these challenges varies based on the ethnographer’s identity and positionality in the institution and society more broadly. In this roundtable, presenters will briefly outline challenges and opportunities that they have encountered working in and around healthcare institutions. The focus of the roundtable will be on open discussion for collective reflection and sharing of strategies for conducting research in these settings.