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  • Contents
  • Subject index

This is the first international and inter-disciplinary social science Handbook on health and medicine. Five years in the making, and building on the insights and advice of an international editorial board, the book brings together world-class figures to provide an indispensable, comprehensive resource book on social science, health and medicine. Pinpointing the focal issues of research and debate in one volume, the material is organized into three sections: social and cultural frameworks of analysis; the experience of health and illness; and health care systems and practices. Each section consists of specially commissioned chapters designed to examine the vital conceptual and methodological practice and policy issues.

Cultural Variation in the Experience of Health and Illness
Cultural variation in the experience of health and illness

Prevention of suffering underlies most therapeutic systems, but paradoxically, as Dostoevsky reflects, ‘man will never renounce real suffering … [which] is the sole origin of consciousness’ (1955: 140). Awareness of distress, in oneself or others, is a universal human trait, and the fundamental dichotomy of wellness versus illness may have deep evolutionary roots. Fábrega (1997: 46) argues that responses to affliction emerged in protocultural primate groups and were retained through natural selection in human evolution, leading to a sickness-healing adaptation that underlies all medical systems.

Although the capacity to respond to distress is biogenetic, criteria of abnormality, and the signs and symptoms that denote suffering, vary culturally (Csordas and ...

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