SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Medical Anthropology in Global Perspective

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2020/2021
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 1 or Year 2
Taught in:
Full Year

This module provides an introduction to the perspectives and practices of medical anthropology. It offers insights into the evolution of modern medicine and its key institutional, cultural, and ethical tenets as well as discourses and practices. The key aim is to engage in a cultural critique of biomedical assumptions, while also upholding a serious engagement with biomedical knowledge/mindsets in order to explore what they can offer anthropology. 
Notions of health and illness are shaped by social, cultural, political, and technological forces. Questions of health and illness are thus inextricably linked with questions of science, technology, modernity, power, religion, gender, colonialism, capitalism, and globalization. We will discuss key concepts such as the normal body, medicalization, social construction, subjectivity, and biopolitics; thus familiarizing students with scholarly and timely debates on how biotechnological developments have fundamentally transformed individuals and communities and the way they experience life and health. In other words, we ask how experience is shaped by systems of classification and intervention, and what epistemological and ethical issues arise from them. Introducing students to relevant theoretical framework as well as ethnographies, the module will underscore phenomenological perspectives as well as analyses of the political economy of health. Students will explore the moral implications of these ongoing cultural shifts, and will be asked to consider these debates as frameworks to engage with current affairs and global conditions pertaining to health, inequality, conflict, and justice. There is a strong cross-cultural and comparative approach in this module, manifest in our engagement with ethnographic and theoretical contributions from the so-called Global South.


This course is for students enrolled on the MA Medical Anthropology and is also offered on the MA Anthropological Research Methods.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

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, public health, bioethics, and alternative medical systems.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules