Bioethics Blogs

“Bioculturalism” — An interview with Benjamin Campbell by Benjamin Campbell

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, Benjamin Campbell responds to questions posed 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?

Simply stated health is inherently biocultural. It is experienced by individual bodies in social and cultural context. Whatever the impact of social forces on health, they must act through physiological processes in an individual body. Integrating biomarkers forces us to be specific about which elements of culture impinge on the body and how they may do so. As such they make hypotheses about social factors in health falsifiable and allow for refinement of our original ideas rather than standing or falling on a single test.

Most social science health researchers focuses on specific health conditions, such as diabetes or depression, and have a wealth of information about the condition. Thus in integrating biological variables the researcher is able to determine which specific measures will help to address their research question or not. For instance, traditional healing practices and rituals are generally thought to work by reducing psychosocial stress. Respondents reports provide one measure of stress reduction, but biomarkers such as blood pressure or cortisol levels provide additional physiological measures that can corroborate or contradict such reports, leading to a better understanding of the cultural expectations and bodily experience.

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.