The complexity of health systems and their social, political, and economic contexts has resulted in a call for multidisciplinary research that can appropriately examine the relationships and interactions surrounding health systems. Anthropologists, who have a disciplinary training that emphasizes social structures and human relationships, are well-suited to conduct health systems research. However, there remains a gap in anthropologically-ground methodological approaches for conducting in-depth, qualitative research that simultaneously conceptualizes and maps out a health system and examines connections between health systems and other social structures, such as immigration enforcement systems. Without such methodological approaches, limitations in examining a health system and its constituent elements will persist, and health and social scientists will miss opportunities to identify links between different factors in a health system and outside the system itself. In this article, I use ethnographic research examining the health-related consequences of immigration enforcement laws and police practices in the United States to show how to examine relationships between multiple social systems. In doing so, I provide an example for how to conduct in-depth, qualitative health systems research by merging theoretical frameworks in health sciences and anthropology to demonstrate how medical anthropologists can conceptualize a health system as a social field for ethnographic inquiry. Overall, I argue that such an approach permits anthropologists a way to conduct rigorous health systems research that emphasizes relationships and reveals potentially hidden interactions.
- Critical medical anthropology
- Health systems
- Multi-sited ethnography
- Social ecological model of health
- Systems perspectives