Qualitative methods are now common in research into the social and cultural dimensions of ill health and health care. These methods derive from several social sciences, but the concepts and knowledge from some disciplinary traditions are underused. Here we describe the potential contribution of anthropology, which is based on the empirical comparison of particular socie ties. Anthropology has biological, social, and cultural branches, but when applied to health issues it most commonly relates to the social and cultural dimensions of health, ill health, and medicine.1
Emphasis on methods in health related qualitative research obscures the value of substantive knowledge and theoretical concepts based in some social sciences-. Anthropology views the familiar afresh through focusing on classification and on understanding rationality in social and cultural context. It highlights the value of data gathered informally and the differences between what people say, think, and do. Its emphasis on empirical particularity helps to avoid inaccurate generalisations and their potentially problematic applications. Truly multidisciplinary research needs to incorporate the conceptual frameworks and knowledge bases of participating disciplines.