AbstractThe main theme of this paper is a description of the surprising resistance of so-called folk concepts of health and illness to modem scientific medicine. This phenomenon is discussed in a historical as well as a socio cultural context, in order to facilitate understanding. It is indicated that although the methodoloffcal dictum of relativism may be initially useful as a heuristic guide to decipher what may be called the ‘lope of the irrational' cross-culturally, it may not be elevated to a position of ontological relativism. Ill health sets limits to human autonomy everywhere. Health care, however defined, is thus a universal human need. It must be realized that whatever the different cultural conceptions, taken-for-granted societal and professional power structures may prove to be important stumbling blocks in the delivery of more efficacious health care which modem scientific medicine undeniably can deliver. It is argued that knowledge of differences may be important in the facilitation of cross-cultural understanding. Members of the medical profession must, however, be able to tolerate differences, be aware of the unforeseen consequences of their taken-for-granted structural position as a social category and try to relate to people as autonomous human beings and not as members of conventional and thus stereotyped cultural or social categories.
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