Contested culture and the ramifications for rural health

19 October 2012

The notion of culture is conceptually complex – it’s intangible and open to different interpretations. Health means different things to different cultures.

The meaning of the term ‘culture’ in rural and remote health research is featured in the October edition of The Australian Journal of Rural Health. In a timely and thought-provoking paper, Jane Farmer and others suggest that too often the word ‘culture’ is used either ambiguously or too broadly; for example, it is often used interchangeably with ethnicity.

The authors suggest that the difficulty of acknowledging the true diversity of cultures might be why many rural health challenges remain unsolved. The ramifications for rural and remote health are enormous. Culture is a kind of lens through which we each comprehend the world we live in. Culture, the authors argue, “engenders patterns of belief and perceptions about health or illness”.

In the large literature about the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people there is a strong tendency to view this remarkably diverse group of people as a culturally homogeneous whole. Viewed through a white cultural lens this leads to misconceptions, with negative results for Indigenous health. While the focus is overwhelmingly on the western biomedical model of health, this article points out that there are other, equally valid, ways of looking at the world and at health and wellbeing.

The authors believe that not enough people understand the role of culture in rural health and that it has not been sufficiently studied. This paper, with its excellent list of references, provides a good start to a deeper comprehension of this compelling idea. The work was initially presented at the 3rd Rural and Remote Health Scientific Symposium in Adelaide earlier this year. People interested in supporting or following any of the research projects initiated at that symposium can go to the NRHA Scientific Symposium website and click on Next Steps.

In the same issue you can also read about the surprising findings in two reports on teleoncology in rural areas by Jennifer K Mooi and others and Sabe Sabesan and others, respectively, as well as a nursing perspective on rural physical health care services for people with serious mental illness by a group led by Brenda Happell.

Prof John Marley’s powerful editorial reminds us how “rural health professionals can change the world”. Read about how this happens in the latest edition of The Australian Journal of Rural Health. The journal can be found on the publisher’s website:

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