Bioethics Blogs

“Bioculturalism” – An interview with Emily Mendenhall by Emily Mendenhall

This series aims to get anthropologists and closely-related others talking seriously, and thinking practically, about how to synergize biological and social scientific approaches to human health and well-being, and to what positive ends. In this interview, Emily Mendenhall responds to questions posed by series organizer Jeffrey G. Snodgrass.


How and why might cultural anthropologists and social scientists interested in health benefit from integrating biological variables/biomarkers into their research and analysis?

Disciplinary muscle within anthropology has always baffled me as a medical anthropologist. This may be due in part to my prior training in public health, which is inherently interdisciplinary. It may also be a reflection of my research, which focuses on interpreting hidden as well as more visible capillaries of power that source health inequities, and incorporating individual-level interpretations of disease and suffering with epidemiological ones. Yet, many anthropological efforts draw from other disciplines or sub-fields (or very well should) to enhance and make their research relevant beyond their field site or in the public arena. Indeed, with some academic departments charged with making anthropology more relevant within the academic curriculum, it is an important time for anthropologists to recognize how integrative, cross sub-field studies can enhance their work and relevance outside of the disciplinary confines of anthropological scholarship.

It could be argued that studies of health and inequality are ideal for interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary approaches and collaborations. What anthropology brings to this scholarship is recognition of how broader political-economic and social contexts shape not only people’s bodies but also how they cope, suffer, and survive.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.