Skip to main content

Anth 455: Medical Anthropology

Course Description

Study of the relationship of human culture to health and disease. Includes ancient disease and impact on human evolution, interrelationship between biology and culture, alternative health systems, and applicability to contemporary problems.

History and Famous Individuals

Six basic fields in medical anthropology:

  1. the development of systems of medical knowledge and medical care
  2. the patient-physician relationship
  3. the integration of alternative medical systems in culturally diverse environments
  4. the interaction of social, environmental and biological factors which influence health and illness both in the individual and the community as a whole
  5. the critical analysis of interaction between psychiatric services and migrant populations ("critical ethnopsychiatry": Beneduce 2004, 2007)
  6. the impact of biomedicine and biomedical technologies in non-Western settings

Applied medical anthroplogy is concerned with developing international and community health programs in developing countries; evaluating the influence of social and cultural variables in the epidemiology of certain forms of psychiatric pathology (transcultural psychiatry); studying cultural resistance to innovation in therapeutic and care practices; analysing healing practices toward immigrants; and studying traditional healers, folk healers and empirical midwives who may be reinvented as health workers (the so-called barefoot doctors).

Who's Who:  A large number of contributors to 20th Century medical anthropology had their primary training in medicine, nursing, psychology or psychiatry, including W. H. R. Rivers, Abram Kardiner, Robert I. Levy, Jean Benoist, Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán and Arthur Kleinman. Some of them share clinical and anthropological roles.

Others came from anthropology or social sciences, like George Foster, William Caudill, Byron Good, Tullio Seppilli, Gilles Bibeau, Lluis Mallart, Andràs Zempleni, Gilbert Lewis, Ronald Frankenberg, and Eduardo Menéndez. A recent book by Saillant & Genest describes a large international panorama of the development of medical anthropology, and some of the main theoretical and intellectual actual debates.

[Adapted from this Wikipedia entry]