Sunday, February 1, 2009

Ethnorelativity and Praxis

I am often asked what I am studying here at Purdue University. Upon hearing Health Communication, I am always asked what might that be. So I tell them that in easy terms, I study the interaction between doctors, patients, hospitals, governments, and other policy-making agencies. I then have to look into the person’s expressions and follow my answer up with an example.

“Think of a time you went to a doctor and had a really bad experience with him/her,” I tell them. “And now think of a time when you really liked your doctor.” “What changed? What influenced your experiences? To a big extent, this is what I study.” I use the above explanation not only to share in an easy way what I study but also to remind myself what got me interested in this field. Reading some of this week’s contents reminded me the practicality of such explanations.
Teal & Street (2008) shares in a simple yet insightful way about the need to have a cultural competency in a doctor patient relationship, treatment, and adherence of the patients to prescriptions. They discuss how cultural components should be the elements any doctor should focus on specializing to provide sincere and reliable service, and how such a practice can bring positive outcomes among patients, and the doctor patient relationship.

Many cultural competence models promote a shift from ethnocentric to a ethnorelative phase, however “focusing on characteristics of cultural groups can inadvertently promote physician reliance on stereotypes (e.g., based on race or ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status) as the basis for their ‘‘culturally appropriate’’ interactions with diverse patients” (Teal & Street, 2008, p.4). And many of these models focus on individual attention to cultural sensitivity as opposed to institutional move to accomplish it. And who’s cultural beliefs are being promoted in those ‘proper’ instance?

Mani (1989) talks about similar issues when she writes about using different viewpoints on issues depending on where one stands. Whether one is an American, or a British, or an Indian, his/her culturally ingrained views are bound to shine through. Nandi (1988) questions whether it is possible for a Westerner to look at Indian practices of Sati as something not negative ever and try to understand/ accept it.

So at the end of the day, is ethnorelativity (e.g., acceptance and integration of different cultures) only a nice idea to have in academia, or can it have some practical applications? The road seems difficult, yes, but not impossible to cross.

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