The Mindful Body: A Prolegomenon to Future Work in Medical Anthropology



Conceptions of the body are central not only to substantive work in medical anthropology, but also to the philosophical underpinnings of the entire discipline of anthropology, where Western assumptions about the mind and body, the individual and society, affect both theoretical viewpoints and research paradigms. These same conceptions also influence ways in which health care is planned and delivered in Western societies. In this article we advocate the deconstruction of received concepts about the body and begin this process by examining three perspectives from which the body may be viewed: (1) as a phenomenally experienced individual body-self; (2) as a social body, a natural symbol for thinking about relationships among nature, society, and culture; and (3) as a body politic, an artifact of social and political control. After discussing ways in which anthropologists, other social scientists, and people from various cultures have conceptualized the body, we propose the study of emotions as an area of inquiry that holds promise for providing a new approach to the subject.