Published online by Cambridge University Press: 14 November 2005
Academic disciplines like anthropology and epidemiology provide a niche for researchers to speak the same language, and to interrogate the assumptions that they use to investigate problems. How anthropological and epidemiological methods communicate and relate to each other affects the way public health policy is created but the philosophical underpinnings of each discipline makes this difficult. Anthropology is reflective, subjective and investigates complexity and the individual; epidemiology, in contrast, is objective and studies populations. Within epidemiological methods there is the utilitarian concept of potentially sacrificing the interests of the individual for the benefits of maximizing population welfare, whereas in anthropology the individual is always included. Other strengths of anthropology in the creation of public health policy include: its attention to complexity, questioning the familiar; helping with language and translation; reconfiguring boundaries to create novel frameworks; and being reflective. Public health requires research that is multi-, inter- and trans-disciplinary. To do this, there is a need for each discipline to respect the ‘dignity of difference’ between disciplines in order to help create appropriate and effective public health policy.