© 2019 Yulia BULDAKOVA

2019 — №1 (17)

Keywords: anthropology, medical anthropology, conventional medicine, unconventional medicine

Abstract: The text reviews the first and so far the only comprehensive Russian coursebook on medical anthropology intended for humanities and medicine students, teachers, as well as academic researchers of various levels. In 2019, the definition of “medical anthropology” has become 60 years old. The review touches upon the coursebook author’s coverage of the early days of medical anthropology and formation of the attitude to this academic field abroad and in Russia; discussed is the author’s concept of the possibility to increase societal awareness of medical anthropology, to organize a medical anthropology teaching system, as well as the prospects for self-realization of medical anthropology experts in Russia, where structural conditions are significantly different from those in the West, while the demand in experts is objectively growing each year.

Author info:

Yulia Rafaelevna Buldakova is Cand. Sc. in Medicine, Associate Professor at the Department of Internal Diseases, Faculty of Dentistry, Moscow State University of Medicine and Dentistry (Moscow).


The coursebook Medical Anthropology, by Dmitry Viktorovich Mikhel, is the first of its kind in this academic field in Russia. That is the reason why this publication’s importance is hard to overestimate, while the functions it can fulfill obviously spread beyond a classroom. This book must not only fill the gap in medical anthropology teaching books for various levels and branches of the Russian humanities; importantly, this book must also gather together the researchers working, directly or indirectly, in this scientific field. This book can be a source of information for all those unable to collect information on medical anthropology from various fragmented sources.

In Russia, where the knowledge on medical anthropology is still scarce, it would be logical to make only a brief introductory review of this scientific field, including its history, main ideas and goals. However, D. V. Mikhel has created an extended and profound guide on medical anthropology’s past, present and future. Using this book, a reader of any competence, alone or under a teacher’s supervision, can walk along the suggested routes of knowledge. The reader will find out how in a brief period medical anthropology has developed its scientific and practical branches, its system of researchers training, has created its magazine, and has become an independent academic discipline with interests encompassing complementary and alternative medicine, psychology, natural sciences, biomedicine, public health and health care.

The author also touches upon the big turn that occurred in the West in the first half of the XX century, towards the huge post-war humanitarian programs, as well as the reinvention of medical science and technologies, the breakthrough in pharmaceutics, revision of epidemiological scales after the emergence of antibiotics – all the factors that changed both the approach to state medical policy and the attitude to the individual in pain. Thanks to this coursebook, the reader can understand the logic behind the emergence of applied anthropology: the traditional field of sociocultural anthropology, which lies in its foundation, was too narrow for the new agenda in the thick of the action. Next, as Professor Mikhel explains, it was applied anthropology that in the third quarter of the XX century allowed medical anthropology to gain independence and entrusted to the latter the study of how people in various cultures understand “health”, “illness”, the figure and functions of the doctor, and how they solve health-related issues in practice.

The coursebook features eight chapters:

  • What is Medical Anthropology?
  • Health and Illness in Cultural Context
  • Folk Medicine
  • Biomedicine
  • Reproduction and Reproductive Health
  • Psychic Health
  • Political Economy of Health
  • Sources of Information

Exactly this set of subjects is the most convenient for undergraduate or postgraduate students, as well as neophyte teachers.


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