John Libbey Eurotext

Cahiers d'études et de recherches francophones / Santé


Socio-anthropological contributions to public nutrition: why, how and under which conditions? Volume 12, issue 1, Janvier - Février 2002

Institut de médecine tropicale, Département de santé publique, Unité de nutrition et de santé infantile, 155 Nationalestraat, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgique.
  • Page(s) : 77-85
  • Published in: 2002

Socio-anthropological research is being increasingly recognised as important in public nutrition research. It helps to understand practices and behaviours the significance of which can partially escape the nutritionist. It also permits to increase knowledge about food systems and their underlying social dynamics and representations and therefore contributes to the understanding of often neglected aspects of nutritional problems. In this paper the authors highlight how their discipline and its main research techniques can be efficiently involved in public nutrition research, without however neglecting their own specific methodological requirements. The first objective of the paper is to draw methodological lessons from experiences. A second objective is to familiarise researchers, who are not specialised in social sciences, with the main techniques used in the discipline. After a brief presentation of the underlying principles and objectives of socio-anthropological research, the main data collection techniques used by socio-anthropologists (observation, interview, focus groups) are described and their use is illustrated by concrete research examples from Congo, Bolivia, Nepal and Tunisia. A special emphasis is put on the requirements of qualitative data analysis. The discussion focuses on the choice of techniques, the enhancement of quality in qualitative research and on the main constraints and difficulties encountered in involving socio-anthropology in public nutrition. The limits, constraints and conditions of this implication and contribution are discussed. For the authors the issue of involving socio-anthropology in public nutrition should not be viewed in terms of instrumentalisation of one discipline by the other. The main avenue to reach a fruitful and efficient collaboration is respect and recognition of the methodological approaches (and underlying epistemological assumptions) of socio-anthropology (qualification of researchers, quality criteria, etc.). These requirements are necessary for socio-anthropology to produce qualitatively sound data and analysis. More important, the set up of common conceptual frameworks on the basis of an interdisciplinary dialogue has to be established from conception of the research up to its conclusion.