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When the field is a ward or a clinic: Hospital ethnography

Two decades of ‘critical’ medical anthropology have sensitised ethnographers to many aspects of biomedical culture. In advocating strongly for patients’ and families’ experiences to be heard in an environment where they were often muted, these discourses opened up new terrain for socio-cultural enquiry. However, the patient-advocacy stance of these discourses, as necessary as it was and still is, often leaves little space for complexity and nuance, and may demonise medical/clinical staff in its very valid attempt to understand patient/family experience. Research in this terrain is often poorly received by clinicians, who experience it as ‘doctor bashing’. The value of deeply embedded hospital ethnography is that it offers a new and exciting level of data with which to synthesise critical medical anthropology. As is demonstrated in this collection, hospital-based ethnographic work offers a collaborative approach in which the ethnographer, of necessity, must take into account a broader range of experience of a hospital encounter.

Reference: Debbi Long, Cynthia Hunter & Sjaak van der Geest (2008) When the field is a ward or a clinic: Hospital ethnography, Anthropology & Medicine, 15:2, 71-78, DOI: 10.1080/13648470802121844