role adaptation: traditional curers under the impact of Western medicine1


  • 1

    A quite different version of this paper was presented to the Society for Applied Anthropology, San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1964. The present one is the last of many redrafts since that time. Oral presentation of an early draft benefited greatly from comments of my former colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh, especially Leonard Kasdan (now Michigan State University), Edward A. Kennard, George Peter Murdock, Arthur Tuden, Alexander Spoehr, and Otto von Mering (now University of Florida), and a sociological colleague, Paul N. Geisel (now University of Texas, Dallas). I am also grateful to Golamreza Fazel (University of Massachusetts, Boston) and to Robert Hunt (Brandeis University) for calling my attention to the citations by Barth and Belshaw (Fazel) and by Banton and Keesing (Hunt). Responsibility herein is entirely mine.


To examine effects on the curer's role of the contest between indigenous and Western medical systems, the concept of role adaptation is proposed. Anthropological treatment of the curer's role and the role concept are described. Curing role adaptation in selected societies under acculturation is analyzed and a typology derived of the curer's role as adaptive, attenuated, or emergent. Alternative routes to role adaptation or extinction are explored. Role adaptation is considered as a conceptual tool and as it may relate to such associated notions as cultural broker, role analogue, and role ambiguity.