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Medical Anthropology Quarterly

The Politics of Recognition in Culturally Appropriate Care

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Abstract

Over the last 20 years, the concept of culturally appropriate health care has been gradually gaining popularity in medicine and public health. In calling for health care that is culturally appropriate, minority groups seek political recognition of often racialized constructions of cultural difference as they intervene in health care planning and organization. Based on interview narratives from people involved in community organizing to establish a federally funded community health center in a mid-size New England city, I chart the emergence of a language of “culturally appropriate health care” in language used to justify the need for a health center. An identity model of recognition underlies the call for ethnic resemblance between patient and provider seen in many culturally appropriate care programs. I contrast this model of health care with earlier calls for community access and control by activists in the 1970s and explore the practical and theoretical implications of each approach.

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