Penn State researcher serves as guest editor of medicine anthropology journal

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State researcher Margaret Winchester served as the guest editor of a special issue of Medicine Anthropology Theory, a new journal at the forefront of medical anthropological theory building.

“Medical anthropology, broadly speaking, is the study of the relationship between culture and health,” Winchester said. “In global health, medical anthropology is particularly important for understanding the contexts in which health care access, interventions and disparities occur. Adding a geographic approach to medical anthropology broadens the scope of health to include a person’s surroundings and their use of resources."

The special issue, published through the University of Amsterdam in April, brings together the perspectives of medical anthropology and geography through the lens of therapeutic landscapes. Therapeutic landscapes are part of a framework developed by geographer Wil Gessler in the early 1990s to study the interaction of health with natural landscapes, such as in sites of pilgrimages or healing.

Winchester, a research associate in the Department of Health Policy and Administration at Penn State, is also the coordinator for the Pan Institution Network for Global Health (PINGH), which brings together faculty at seven global institutions to work collaboratively on research and education focused on urban health and multiple morbidities. She has a background in medical anthropology and global health. She has conducted most of her research on people living with HIV/AIDS in Uganda.

She joined Penn State in 2012 as a postdoctoral researcher in geography, under the supervision of Brian King in the Department of Geography. Supported by the National Science Foundation, Winchester and King studied the relationship between natural resources, HIV and overall health management in rural South Africa.

Through this project, Winchester learned about “therapeutic landscapes” as a geographic framework for understanding health broadly as grounded in the natural environment. However, Winchester found that anthropologists had not yet taken up the concept in a systematic way.

To begin to bring the two pieces together, Winchester organized a session at the American Anthropological Association’s annual meeting in 2014. The session had an overwhelming amount of interest and response and was the foundation for the special issue of Medicine Anthropology Theory.

“The journal is also a free, open-access, online publication, which is particularly important to me, given the inability of many of my colleagues in the developing world to access most global health-related journals,” Winchester said.

The special issue has six peer-reviewed articles, one commentary, three special pieces, and three photo essays. The collection includes research done around the world, including the United States, Ukraine, Venezuela, Indonesia, Denmark and South Africa.

“All of the pieces bring together ethnographic work that is grounded in local geography, illustrating the diverse ways to understand therapeutic landscapes and how to analyze work through an interdisciplinary lens,” Winchester said.

Winchester and King coauthored a piece for the issue. The article examines a village in South Africa and the social, structural and natural resources residents use in combination to manage health at a household level. For example, some residents collect medicinal herbs and firewood to offset health care costs.

“The special issue on therapeutic landscapes speaks directly to PINGH’s thematic priorities, especially as a holistic framework for understanding urban health,” Winchester said.

Winchester is currently working with Caprice Knapp, senior lecturer and research associate in health policy and administration at Penn State, and Mallika Bose, associate professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture at Penn State, on Project Redemption, a study of the health of canners in New York City. They are utilizing the framework of therapeutic landscapes to incorporate geographic considerations into this preliminary study of health and health access.

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Last Updated April 28, 2017