Why Theory Matters in Global Health: Dr Arthur Kleinman

By Maggie Sullivan Moderator | 20 Jul, 2014

Recently, I had the privilege of listening to Dr Arthur Kleinman talk about why theory is important to the practice of global health. As many of you know, Dr Kleinman has co-written a book titled "Reimaging Global Health," and in particular a chapter titled, "Unpacking Global Health: Theory and Critique." While I'm neither strong on theory, nor passionately interested in it, focusing on theory makes me think about what and why I'm doing what I do in global health, like how much do I fall into my own "rigidity of habits," as Dr Kleinman puts it; how often do I examine the unanticipated consequences of what I do?; how much am I impacting not just the biological/physical, but also some of the social causes of problems?

I've attached two sets of slides (similar but with some variation) and an article, all written by Dr Kleinman who was kind enough to let me share them here. I encourage even the most theory-averse to take a look because we are interfacing with these theories, whether we're aware of it or not.



Aneel Brar Replied at 10:02 PM, 20 Jul 2014

Thanks for sharing!

Ruth Staus Replied at 5:11 AM, 21 Jul 2014

Dr. Kleinman and his colleagues are trying to establish the theoretical underpinnings of the emerging discipline of global health that can serve as the foundation for all professions that engage in work in this field. In a discipline that involves professionals with very different skill sets and theoretical perspectives- nursing, medicine, anthropology, sociology, psychology, political science, finance, public health, biology, etc.- it is necessary to work from a common theoretical perspective. The social theory that Kleinman et al. propose is highly compatible with nursing theory and is actually more holistic in its perspective than most nursing theories which tend to be concerned with individuals and families not entire populations. I am currently developing a global health course for nurses based on social theory. One of the difficulties with teaching this to nursing students is their lack of knowledge regarding world history and geopolitics which is necessary for the type of in-depth analysis required to successfully utilize global health theory.