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Paper 3: Optional Papers

Optional Papers offered in 2016/17

(3c) Medical Anthropology

Jonathan Taee - Hunting Cordyceps in Bhutan

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.

Please note: Applicants wishing to follow the options in Medical Anthropology would benefit from previous experience in the relevant area.


MPhil students can also opt to take one of the HSPS Optional papers instead of Paper 3c. HSPS Optional Papers offered in 2016/17 are:

SAN8: Anthropology and Development

SAN10: The Anthropology of Post-Socialist Societies

SAN11: Anthropology of Media and Visual Culture



Other Optional Papers (not offered in 2016/17)

(3b) Social anthropology and museums 

Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology: Maudslay Hall

This paper provides an overview of the history and contemporary roles of museums. It has a strong theoretical orientation and highlights the importance of collections and artefact-based analysis as key components of anthropological research. 

Drawing on the internationally renowned collections of the University of Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (artefacts, photographic materials and archives), alongside comparative cross-cultural examples, the paper examines ways in which objects are produced, circulated, interpreted and displayed. Central topics include the relationship between persons and things, materiality and agency, the politics and poetics of representation, and the relationship between museums and various community stakeholders. 

The course also provides a solid grounding in museum practice, including care and handling of artefacts, documentation, collections management, exhibition and outreach. Students have the opportunity to gain transferable skills through work experience at MAA and active involvement in a range of museum projects. In addition, fieldtrips to museums are organised in Michaelmas and Lent terms as a scheduled part of the course and for which the Division reimburses travel expenses. 

Please note: Applicants wishing to follow the options in Social Anthropology and Museums would benefit from previous experience in the relevant area.

Course Resources


MP3c Medical Anthropology Paper Guide

For reading lists, additional teaching materials, past exam papers and reports please see the MPhil Moodle Course.

Please note teaching staff and students enrolled on the MPhil course will automatically be enrolled on the MPhil Moodle course and you will find a link to it in the ‘My Home’ section of Moodle.

If you are a member of the University of Cambridge and you wish to view the reading lists, past exam questions and exam reports then you can access the MPhil Moodle Course as a guest. For more information on how to access Moodle Courses as a guest please see Moodle Help.