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Meaning and Structure in Research in Medical Anthropology

William Dressler

In an earlier paper (Dressler, 2001), I suggested that medical anthropology as a research enterprise could not ignore either meaning or structure in human social life in the production of health. Rather, drawing on the early work of Bourdieu, I argued that we need to take into account both how the world is configured by the collective meanings we impose upon it, as well as the social structural (and physical) constraints on our behaviour that exist outside those meanings. Human health can be understood, in part, as the intersection of meaning and structure. Here, my aim is to extend this perspective in three ways. Firstly, I present an expanded theoretical framework within which collectivei meaning and social structure can be conceptualised. A useful theoretical framework must take into account paradoxical features of culture, including the seeming contradiction that it is a property both of social aggregates and of individuals, and that, ultimately, social structural constraints external to individuals depend on shared meaning. Secondly, I review recent research employing this perspective conducted in Brazil, the southern United States and Puerto Rico. These studies have all employed a 'structural-constructivist' theoretical orientation, using especially the concept of 'cultural consonance', or the degree to which individuals incorporate shared meaning into their own beliefs and behaviour. Where individual efforts to attain a higher cultural consonance are frustrated by structural constraints, poor health results. Thirdly, I consider some of the policy implications of this perspective. While much work in traditional public health focuses on a highly individualised notion of meaning (as in 'health beliefs'), it seems unlikely that the health of populations can be altered substantially without taking into account the structures that constrain individual action.

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Creating a Significant Community

Religious Engagements in the Film Ha-Mashgihim (God’s Neighbors)

Merav Alush-Levron

’s Mizrahi heroes from Israel’s periphery. This option is portrayed as a charismatic and emotional resource for human existence, a world of meaning that has an autonomous status and is independent of the liberal universe and its representation. 3 The secular

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Mobilizing Meanings

Translocal Identities of the Far Right Web

Patricia Anne Simpson

from normalizing and mainstreaming extremist views. Most significantly, the instrumentalization of the internet can create and disseminate a digitally enhanced image of the far right that coopts and mobilizes historical meanings, forges ideological

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Sharing Images, Spoiling Meanings?

Class, Gender, and Ethics in Visual Research with Girls

Janet Fink and Helen Lomax

with the pressing problem of “time immemorial” ( Brady and Brown 2013: 102 ) for visual sociology and, more particularly, the difficulties of anticipating how, if published, the girls’ photograph might outlive and spoil the meanings of girlhood they

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The Meaning of Contention

Benjamin Abrams, Giovanni A. Travaglino, Peter R. Gardner, and Brian Callan

uncontrollable emotions. Collective behavior could not—they reasoned—be dignified with political meaning because politics is sustained by rationality (for them an attribute of the individual, not of the crowd, mob, or masses). This early untenable emphasis on

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The Meanings of the Move?

From “Predicaments of Mobility” to “Potentialities in Displacement”

Stephen C. Lubkemann

scholarship of displacement to reflexively equate migration in conflict with loss, 1 I first aim to illustrate how the meanings and outcomes of physical mobility for individuals are far from given, but rather must be—always and everywhere (including under the

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The Different Meanings of “Film Form”

Melenia Arouh

writings that embrace some kind of formalism, one starts to notice that “form” is conceived in different ways to serve different purposes of analysis. The plethora of meanings associated with the word that have been acquired in the history of aesthetics

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Life in the Time of COVID

Meeting between Jewish Principles and Existential Thought

Harriett Goldenberg

differently. For Frankl, to whom I will return later in this article, it means that there is no given, absolute meaning to any situation, event or feeling, but rather it is within our individual province to make meaning, to find meaning, to create meaning

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Otherwise than Meaning

On the Generosity of Ritual

Don Seeman

The thought experiment ‘ritual in its own right’ implies a suspension of dominant interpretive paradigms in anthropological research. This essay begins by juxtaposing the foundational accounts of Weber and Geertz—both of whom associate ritual with the quest for meaning in suffering—with the phenomenological account of Emmanuel Levinas, who argues that suffering is inherently “useless” and therefore resistant to meaning’s claim. All three theorists are then juxtaposed with the Warsaw ghetto writings of a twentieth-century Jewish mystic, Kalonymos Shapira, whose work exemplifies the tension between meaningful and useless suffering in a real social setting. Shapira’s work bears comparison with Levinas’s, and lends support to the idea that our preoccupation with meaning may stem from a particular religious genealogy of social theory. Ritual can be analyzed as a ground of intersubjectivity or transcendence rather than meaning, which makes it more akin to medicine, in Levinas’s terms, than to theodicy.

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'Condemned to Meaning'

A Critical Review of Recent Work on Charles Taylor

Deane-Peter Baker

Charles Taylor, by Ruth Abbey. Teddington, UK: Acumen, 2000. ISBN: 0691057141.

Charles Taylor: Meaning, Morals and Modernity, by Nicholas H. Smith. Cambridge: Polity, 2002. ISBN: 0742521273.

Charles Taylor: Thinking and Living Deep Diversity, by Mark Redhead. Lanham and Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002. ISBN: 0745645767.