SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Therapy and Culture

Course Code:
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 1 or Year 2
Taught in:
Term 1
The course aims broadly to provide a phenomenological understanding of the body, which implies also subjective attitudes to notions of health, sickness, disease, recovery, and personal vulnerability. But it also seeks to place these personal experiences within a wider political, economic and cultural context.

One way in which this is done is through a study of the metaphors and language used to talk about these phenomena at both the personal and social levels, so linking public medical discussion (the social body, the body politic) with inter-personal discourse on the physiological body.

Another way is to compare socio-cultural, epidemiological and biological approaches to illness to ascertain why so many illnesses experienced in the developing world have no bio-medical equivalent recognised by, for example, the W.H.O.

Yet another is to analyse the interaction of western and traditional medical discourses, the conditions of medical pluralism, the professionalisation of indigenous medical practitioners, and the attachment of moral judgements to certain types of morbidity.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

By the end of the course students should be able to demonstrate:

  • a grasp types of problem and areas of questioning which are fundamental to the anthropology of medicine;
  • an understanding of what constitutes a critical phenomenological and a cultural approach to the body and to illness;
  • knowledge of the particular contribution of a medical anthropological perspective to the study of problems in the health of populations.

Method of assessment

Written Exam 60%, Coursework 40%.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules