Biocultural Theory

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Biocultural theory is an integration of both biological anthropology and social/cultural anthropology. While acknowledging that “the term biocultural can carry a range of meanings and represent a variety of methods, research areas, and levels of analysis” (Hruschka et al. 2005:3), one working definition of biocultural anthropology “a critical and productive dialogue between biological and cultural theories and methods in answering key questions in anthropology” (Hruschka et al. 2005:4).

The use of a biocultural framework can be viewed as the application of a theoretical lens through which disease and embodiment are integrated. This way of understanding takes local, cultural views and understanding of illness and disease and the local practices of traditional or biomedical healing. “This integrative work requires a significant focus on methods, and an openness to different, often competing theoretical paradigms. Studying health and healing from a biocultural perspective takes illness and/or disease and puts it in the context of how a culture embodies the illness they feel as a result of the disease.

Thus, a biocultural approach can be understood as a feedback system through which the biological and cultural interact; biology allows certain behaviors to exist and in turn those behaviors influence biological traits. Through the understanding of both the biological and cultural implications of disease and embodiment, healing becomes a cultural product, something that makes sense within a particular cultural context. Biocultural research involves integrating how cultures approach health and healing based on gender, class, age, education, and their own traditional experience with illness and healing.


Biocultural Approach