Pandora’s Box: Ethnography and the Comparison of Medical Belief

By Gilbert Lewis

In his 1978 Lewis Henry Morgan Lectures, unpublished until now, Gilbert Lewis takes on essential problems for medical anthropology. Has there been progress in medicine? Consider what it was like to be ill in a Gnau village in the West Sepik Province of Papua New Guinea in 1968 and compare it with the experience of illness fifteen years later, after they gained independence. The changes involved some loss of self-reliance. Or consider Bregbo, a community in the Ivory Coast whose prophet offers healing through confession and, in some cases, long-term care in a therapeutic setting. What does this offer that psychiatric approaches to healing do not?

Drawing on these and other cases, Lewis conveys the importance of the ethnographic comparison of medical beliefs in dynamic spaces of knowledge to do with illness, health, and healing, especially as these change over time and intersect with others. Capturing debates during a key moment in the development of medical anthropology, these lectures also inspire us to look with new eyes at contemporary problems in the field.

Gilbert Lewis was a fellow at St John’s College, Cambridge. Before his retirement he was a university lecturer in social anthropology at Cambridge University. He passed away a few weeks after completing the manuscript of this book.

Page count: 225 pp
ISBN: 9781912808328
Price: $25