Ethnography and the prostate cancer experience


Many anthropologists consider that the techniques of ethnography (a type of writing based on field research to provide descriptive studies of behaviors within groups of people) are at the core of their scientific discipline. Margaret Mead’s early work entitled Coming of Age in Samoa (which many readers may have heard of) is still a seminal example of ethnography. But what does any of this have to do with prostate cancer?

Based on interviews with 14 prostate cancer patients, Kelly has applied the techniques of ethnography in an article entitled “Changed men: the embodied impact of prostate cancer.”

Kelly’s goal is to describe the ways in which 14 men’s lives were changed as a result of their diagnosis and treatment. Not surprisingly, his findings suggest that cancer was experienced sequentially, beginning at the time of diagnosis with what (in very anthropological terminology) he describes as “the problematizing of the normally ‘silent’ male body.”

He goes on to describe a “trajectory of experience,”  in which increasing importance gets placed on

  • Treatment side effects
  • “Embodied vulnerability” and
  • The impact of the cancer on men’s “embodied” lives

The article also focuses on the final phase of the illness experience and seeks to illustrate how the interviewees confronted an existential threat (the likelihood of death) alongside physical changes, and the way each change led to new outlooks on life and its priorities following cancer.

The “New” Prostate Cancer InfoLink intends to make sure we read the full text of this article. It may be of considerable value to support group leaders, caregivers, and others in helping to appreciate the ways in which men “think about” the experience of prostate cancer over time.

One Response

  1. Maggie Mead would embed her self into a society so as to be able to understand and internally absorb their values, traditions and norms for this society. I have also been involved in similar studies while engaging in a ThD progran whereby we would embed ourselves into various religious groups (mine was the Hari Krishnas) until we became absorbed into these groups. Extremely valuable information is obtained by this method used by Dr. Mead. I would really like to find and read the complete document as I believe it would be significant for all to have a better understanding of how this disease impacts men and their families. Very important information

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