Dr Seonsam Na

I have a Bachelor’s degree in Korean Medicine from Kyung Hee University (Korea), a Masters in Philosophy and Ethics of Mental Health from Warwick University, another Masters in Medical Anthropology and a Doctorate in Social Anthropology from the University of Oxford. I also earned Diploma in Chinese Classics Studies from the Korea Foundation for Advanced Studies, a prestigious scholarship foundation in Korea that promotes science and humanities studies. Before anthropology, I had spent most of my professional life as doctor of Korean Medicine (KMD), mainly in paediatrics, while being academically involved in medical humanities.

My doctoral thesis ‘A Rebellion in the Korean Medicine Community: An Ethnography of Healthcare Politics in Contemporary South Korea’ explored the subject of Korean Medicine, a unique mainstream medicine of traditional East Asian origin that has recently undergone a significant bio-medicalization. As it dealt with the subject through an investigation of an inter-generational conflict among doctors sparked by state policies, the research also shed lights on the political economy of healthcare provision in contemporary Korea. One of its main findings is that Korean Medicine has been bio-medicalized so much so that it is now closer to Western medicine clinically, socially, and institutionally than to its origin. The research thus comes to problematize the main methodological orientation in medical anthropology by which epistemological differences between medicines are prioritized in analysis- hence Korean Medicine being regarded as an extension of traditional East Asian medicine - as it presented a case where this epistemological approach breaks down. The ‘structural’ elements such as the politics and economy turned out to be crucial in capturing the role and identity of Korean Medicine, with its heavily bio-medicalized characteristics, in the country’s healthcare governance. From these vantage points, I was able to lay bare the ambiguity and the contentions in the country’s medical politics. These findings allowed me to formulate the state of Korean Medicine’s bio-medicalization in contemporary Korean healthcare as ‘the elephant in the room’, something everyone recognizes but failed to publicly acknowledge.

Explorations of the political economy of healthcare provision demonstrated that the state’s pressure on medical communities was causing the doctors’ strong dissent as the pressure had been increasing in the wake of accelerated democratization since late 1990s. The indication of solidarity actions across the professional divides among them illustrated that class interests overrode sectarian concerns. A detailed analysis of the process of conflicts, however, demonstrated that despite their discourse of disruption, the actors in confrontations were actually engaged in strengthening the existing social order by participating in ‘ritualized’ interactions with each other. And this illustrates that implications of a social conflict go beyond the actor-level considerations and interests, and that their analysis requires a multi-level perspective addressing not only the concerns of individuals or groups involved but also the structural and cultural constraints that shape their subjectivities and sociality in the first place.

I will continue to explore issues at the intersections of political, social and medical anthropology in contemporary Korea and in other countries. Now I am particularly interested in the development of Korean society in the late 19th and early 20th century when the idea of being ‘modern’ was no longer a matter of choice for most people in the country due to the imperialistic expansion of neighbouring countries. Clinical and health policy research related with the introduction of integrative medicine in primary care settings are another of my ongoing interests. By sitting at the editorial board of the peer-reviewed journal The Korean Journal of Philosophy of Medicine, I also retain links with medical humanities.

I have taught in Korea such courses as ‘Principles of Korean Medicine’ and ‘Social Scientific Approaches to Health and Medicine’ at schools of Korean Medicine at Gachon University and Pusan National University. And I have taught ‘Issues in Korean Anthropology’, ‘Anthropology of Development and Public Health’ and ‘Anthropology of Japan’ to visiting undergraduates students at Hertford College, the University of Oxford.

Contacts: seonsam.na@anthro.ox.ac.uk

Homepage: https://oxford.academia.edu/SeonsamNa

Selected publications

Articles and book sections in referred journals and edited volumes

2015   ‘A Doctors’ Rebellion: the Political Economy of Healthcare Provision in Contemporary South Korea (in preparation)

2015   ‘The Elephant in the Room: Bio-medicalization of Korean Medicine’ (in preparation)

2012   ‘East Asian Medicine in South Korea’, Harvard Asia Quarterly Vol. 14, No. 4, pp.44-56

2011   ‘Korean Medical Treatment Resulting in the Subjective Experience of ‘Feeling Lighter’ in Scheid, V. and MacPherson, H. (eds) Integrating East Asian Medicine into Contemporary Healthcare, Churchill Livingstone, Elsevir, London

2008  ‘Is East Asian Medicine a Philosophy and Western Medicine a Science?’ The Korean Journal of Philosophy of Medicine, Vol. 6, pp.35-53 (in Korean)

2007  ‘The Current Research Trend in the Field of Philosophy of Medicine in Europe,’ The Korean Journal of Philosophy of Medicine, Vol. 2, pp.111-136 (in Korean)

Health policy reports (in Korean)

2013  Seonsam Na et. al. The Development Manual for Clinical Practice Guidelines in Korean Medicine, the Korea Institute of Oriental Medicine (KIOM)

2013  Byungmook Lim, Seonsam Na, et al. The Development of the Outpatient Classification Manual in Korean Medicine, the Korean Health Insurance Review and Assessment Agency (HIRA)

2013  Eunkyung Lee, Seonsam Na, et al. The implementation of designated care provider service systems for patients with hypertension and diabetes in Korean Medicine clinics, the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW)

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