Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:

Education And Debate

Anthropology in health research: from qualitative methods to multidisciplinarity

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: (Published 27 July 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:210

Rapid Response:

Qualitative Tools, Qualitative Theories

Editor – It was refreshing to see the Education and Debate article
about medical anthropology and qualitative methods (BMJ 2002; 325: 210-3)
and I would entirely support the view that anthropology has a unique
contribution to make to our understanding of health and illness, as do the
other social sciences.

I would like to pick up on the point made about qualitative methods
being used as a tool divorced from theory (Summary point 1 – Emphasis on
methods in health related qualitative research obscures the value of
substantive knowledge and theoretical concepts based in some social
sciences). This argument is completely valid, and I would like to draw out
a strand which is alluded to in the text. Theorists who are steeped in
qualitative method use an entirely different set of theoretical
underpinnings to those used in the clinical sciences. There is a very
different concept of the nature of social reality and, often, an outright
rejection of the positivist and essentialist standpoints which underlie a
huge proportion of health research. For example, Grounded Theory
approaches (which are used widely in health research) are based in
Symbolic Interactionist and social constructionist approaches to the world
and ‘reality’ , Interpretive Phenomenological approaches are exactly that
- Phenomenological. Phenomenology rejects outright the idea that there is
a single, measurable, definable world . If health researchers are going to
use qualitative methods, then they cannot do so simply by removing the
tools and methods from their theoretical roots and relocating them within
a bio-medical, positivist framework. The whole theoretical tradition of
the qualitative model being used needs to be embraced to give any validity
to the research at all.

Competing interests: No competing interests

01 August 2002
Chris Carmona
Health Development Worker
Norwich PCT, St Andrews House, Northside, St Andrews Business Park, Norwich, NR7 0HT