Kleinman Chapter 1 Reading Response

Emma Kikerkov

Julio Villa-Palomino

ANTH 272

January 26, 2020

Kleinman’s reading is interesting because it delineates between three concepts that are practically interchangeable in our society.

Kleinman defines illness as “the lived experience of monitoring bodily processes…”, meaning that it is how a disease influences with the way that someone interacts with the world. Examples of subjective lived experiences of illness include not being able to get homework done because of excruciating headaches or having “distracting low back pain while we sit at work” (Kleinman 4). It is imperative to make the distinction between “sickness”, which is how society influences a disorder, from “disease”, which is the empirical diagnosis to why the body is in a state of distress, and illness because all of these three terms defines the universal experience of being unwell. However, the way our biomedical system is set up, we focus on curing the disease, even though that may not stop someone’s suffering (Kleinman 6). Kleinman refers to another problem in our biomedical system, which he calls the “…materialist pursuit of the biological mechanism of disease…”, which is the emphasis on medical training and medical devices, as opposed to social and psychological aspects of medicine, therefore illness and sickness is not being addressed (Kleinman 9).  In addition, the way disease is defined, it assigns sole blame on one person, instead of addressing other factors that may be causing the disorder, such as socioeconomic status, race, etc.  In order to adequately treat someone, we need to focus on all three of these components


Kleinman, Arthur. “The Meaning of Symptoms and Disorders.” The Illness Narratives: Suffering, Healing, and the Human Condition, Basic Books Inc, 1988, pp. 3–30.

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