This article is an exploration of concepts useful for understanding how diseases affect cultural systems. This reverses the usual question in epidemiologically oriented medical anthropology - how variation in sociocultural behaviors are causally related to patterns of morbidity and mortality. Instead, I am concerned with two theoretical issues: first, a general typology of the mechanisms by which diseases have influenced the structure and evolution of cultures; and second, a distinction between types of parasitism, which is useful for conceptualizing the relative costs of disease to society. If diseases drain energy from cultural ecological systems, then the costs of disease must be understood both epidemiologically and culturally. In international public health theory, it has been a common hypothesis that endemic parasitic disease is an underlying cause of economic underdevelopment. (Brown, 155)
About the Author
In 1978, Dr. Peter J. Brown became a Professor in the Anthropology department as well as Hubert's Department of Global Health at Emory University. He specializes in health issues, culture and their intersections. In this article, he explores concepts that help understand how diseases affect cultural systems.