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Health (London). 2005 Apr;9(2):145-67.

Radical contextualization: contributions to an anthropology of racial/ethnic health disparities.

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  • 1University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195-3100, USA.


There is indisputable evidence of deep and persistent racial/ethnic inequalities in health status and health care in the USA. Growing awareness of these disparities has fueled a cross-disciplinary debate about appropriate approaches to racial/ethnic disparities in public health research and policy discourse, yet anthropologists have been marginalized in this discourse. What does the current work of anthropologists have to offer that is most useful in the crucial work of understanding and eliminating health disparities? We examine anthropological research and practice that constitute core contributions to an anthropology of racial/ethnic health disparities. We identify the following themes: (1) using ethnography as a tool for new inequality knowledge; (2) studying up; and (3) formulating alternative models of biosocial pathogenesis. These elements of anthropological methods, theory and practice can contribute to a better understanding of the social processes that underpin racial/ethnic health disparities and help identify opportunities for interrupting them.

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