Medical Anthropology

Not offered for the academic year 2013/14

For scientific medicine (or biomedicine), ‘the human body’ has traditionally been a key construction at the centre of attention in an understanding of disease and its cure. Whilst the assemblages of biomedicine have been both efficacious and powerful, there have often been mismatches and tensions with other understandings of what constitutes illness and how best it should be treated and by whom. Medical Anthropology has traditionally made it its business to point to some of the mismatches and problems, and this course underlines that these issues arise in a variety of contexts from post-colonial Africa to Europe and North America.

More recently, some biomedical practices have tried to make space for what has been seen as the social or cultural – and anthropology, conversely, has paid new attention to the objects and practices of the natural sciences on which medicine depends.  Medical Anthropology has incorporated both of these trends. The course will give an overview of the history of medical anthropology, paying attention to the main approaches and to some of the key themes that have emerged. In the Michaelmas term, this will mean examining affliction or illness, and different definitions of the cause and processes of remedy, in a range of contexts. In the Lent and Easter terms, this is continued but we also see, in a sweep through certain biomedical assumptions, norms, evidence and technologies, that some of the problems they have gathered around themselves have taken ‘ethical’ shape. To biopower and biosociality is added bioethics. We look at a range of issues that include reproductive health and technologies, contested illnesses, depression, death, and the use of human tissue in therapy and research.

Reading lists and syllabus outline for Paper S10 (pdf):


Previous years’ reading lists are available here.


Exam Questions