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Vol 4 No 5 (2017)

Anthropological approaches to medical humanitarianism

  • Isabel Beshar
  • Darryl Stellmach
February 2, 2017
December 15, 2017


Despite broadly shared interest in the welfare of ‘precarious lives’, medical anthropology and medical humanitarianism are too often in tension. In this survey, we sketch a history of the two disciplines, then track three major patterns through which anthropologists approach the analysis of medical humanitarian efforts. Our three patterns frame medical anthropology as: 1) a critique of medical humanitarianism and its ties to colonialism and globalization, 2) a translation of medical humanitarianism and its associated lexicon, 3) and a reform of medical humanitarianism from the inside out. In highlighting the individual strengths of these three approaches, we argue for the value of medical anthropology – as both a mindset and a method – in health and humanitarian emergencies.