SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Medical Anthropology in Global Perspective

Module Code:
Year of study:
Year 1 or Year 2
Taught in:
Full Year

This is the year-long core course for the MA Medical Anthropology (for an option course on this topic, see Therapy and Culture 15PANH027). The course discusses the phenomenology of the body and cross-cultural concepts of health, pain, illness, disease causation, diagnosis and cure. It extends into issues of public health and policy on a comparative and global basis. The phenomenological and epistemological issues draw upon ethnographies of particular societies as well as material drawn from medical anthropology. Topics range from a critique of the Cartesian dichotomy of body and mind to different ways in which people manage death and disease, including the explanatory roles of divination, herbalism, alternative therapies, religion, sorcery and culturally defined concepts of risk, vulnerability, fate and evil.

The course also defines what is meant by the concept of 'public' in definitions of 'public health', and how such concepts relate to gender and to relations between individuals, households, communities. It also explores problems of epidemiology in approaches to disease.

Local-level understandings are then related to such public health issues as campaigns for epidemic control or disease eradication and prevention, primary health care, mother-child and parent child relationships, the role and possible up-grading and professionalisation of local healers in relation to bio-medically trained practitioners, the distribution of clinics and hospitals and other discourses that accompany public health policies. Particular cases centring on governmental, WHO and NGO activities are analysed.


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