This project explores the competing discourses and practices between biomedical and folk healthcare models among the Karen, one of six highland minority groups that live in the upland areas of Northwest Thailand. My research puzzle focuses on the syncretisms that have emerged between villagers’ folk models and the biomedical model promoted by the clinic. I ask how the Karen perceive health and causes of illness, as well as how they navigate between various healing options. To investigate these questions, I draw on two complementary theoretical frameworks, Arthur Kleinman’s “explanatory model of care” and Glifford Geertz’s “religion as a cultural system.” My ethnographic research focused on one rural, Karen village. During 24 days of formal semi-structured interviews, participant observation, and mapping and kinship exercises, I explored village supernatural and religious beliefs, herbal remedies, and practitioners who cure using folk and biomedical methods. My findings indicate that the Karen are comfortable with both biomedical and folk explanations and treatments of illness. They demonstrate a high degree of cultural resiliency characterized not by the rejection of biomedicine, but rather by its incorporation into their indigenous cosmology. Nevertheless, three Thai state projects – the spread of government clinics and hospitals, economic and educational development, and the promotion of Buddhism as a state religion – pose threats to the continued resiliency of Karen folk healthcare beliefs and practices.


McConnell, David


Sociology and Anthropology


Other Anthropology


health, healthcare

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



© Copyright 2015 Kathleen Jackson