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Anthropol Med. 2014 Dec;21(3):345-356. Epub 2014 Feb 3.

The importance of contextualization. Anthropological reflections on descriptive analysis, its limitations and implications.

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a Research Unit for General Practice, Research Centre for Cancer Diagnosis in Primary Care (CaP), Faculty of Health & Department of Society and Culture - Anthropology, Faculty of Arts , Aarhus University , Aarhus , 8000 Denmark.


This paper regards a concern for the quality of analyses made on the basis of qualitative interviews in some parts of qualitative health research. Starting with discussions departing in discussions on studies exploring 'patient delay' in healthcare seeking, it is argued that an implicit and simplified notion of causality impedes reflexivity on social context, on the nature of verbal statements and on the situatedness of the interview encounter. Further, the authors suggest that in order to improve the quality of descriptive analyses, it is pertinent to discuss the relationship between notions of causality and the need for contextualization in particular. This argument targets several disciplines taking a qualitative approach, including medical anthropology. In particular, researchers working in interdisciplinary fields face the demands of producing knowledge ready to implement, and such demands challenge basic notions of causality and explanatory power. In order to meet these, the authors suggest an analytic focus on process causality linked to contextualization.


beliefs; help seeking; patient delay; qualitative studies

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