Essay collection honours pre-eminent Canadian medical anthropologist

York anthropology Professor Naomi Adelson has co-edited a book honouring the tradition of Margaret Lock, one of the pre-eminent Troubling Natural Categoriesmedical anthropologists of our time.

Troubling Natural Categories: Engaging the Medical Anthropology of Margaret Lock is a collection of essays taking up Lock’s enduring project to question our deeply held assumptions about biology, medicine and culture.

At the heart of Troubling Natural Categories are questions such as: Where do our conventional understandings of health, illness and the body stem from? What makes them authoritative? How are the boundaries set around these areas of life unsettled in the changing historical and political contexts of science, technology and health-care delivery?

Throughout her career at McGill University, Lock has investigated how medicine sets boundaries around what is deemed “normal” and “natural”, and how, in turn, these ideas shape our technical and moral understandings of life, sickness and death.

In this book, nine established medical anthropologists – all former students of Lock – critically engage with her work, offering ethnographic and historical analyses that problematize taken-for-granted constructs in health and medicine in a range of global settings. The essays elaborate cutting-edge themes within medical anthropology, including the often disturbing, inherently political nature of biomedicine and biotechnology, the medicalization of mental health processes and the formation of uniquely “local biologies” through the convergence of bodily experience, scientific discourse and new technologies of care.

Troubling Natural Categories not only affirms Margaret Lock’s place at the forefront of scholarship but, with these essays, carves Naomi Adelsonout new intellectual directions in the medical social sciences.

Published by McGill-Queen’s University Press, it is edited by Adelson; Leslie Butt, an Asian studies professor at the University of Victoria; and Karina Kielmann, a lecturer in international health and development at Queen Margaret University.  

                                                                                                                                         Naomi Adelson

Adelson, who is also associate dean, research, in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, is the author of “Being Alive Well”: Health and the Politics of Cree Well-Being (University of Toronto Press, 2000), a critical medical anthropological analysis of health theory in the social sciences with specific reference to the James Bay Cree of northern Quebec. In it, she argues that definitions of health are not simply reflections of physiological soundness but convey broader cultural and political realities.