Introduction to Medical Anthropology
General Catalog Course Title:
Medical Anthropology
Terms Offered:
Fall 2016
Spring 2016
Spring 2015
Spring 2014
Spring 2013
Spring 2012
Fall 2011
Spring 2011
Fall 2010
Spring 2010
Course Thread: 
Human Rights
Course Thread: 
Sciences and Society
Instructor: 
Scheper-Hughes, Nancy

This is the core upper division introductory course in critical medical anthropology. It explores humans as simultaneously biological, social, and symbolic beings. It is concerned with questions of both theoretical and applied significance, and with research of relevance to biomedicine as well as to anthropology. Therefore, the class is suitable for majors in anthropology and related social sciences , the humanities, and the biological and medical sciences. The course is embedded in the anthropological premise of epistemological "openness" to alternative understandings of the body, illness, disease, healing, and curing. Medical anthropological knowledge assumes a "body" that is biologically given as well as culturally invented and historically situated so that one can speak of "local biologies". The course offers a comparative perspective, exploring human afflictions, disability, and healing in societies ranging from highland New Guinea, the Amazon, South Africa, Native California, to Brazil, Cuba, Japan, China and the United States. Biomedicine is treated here as one among many efficacious systems of medical knowledge, power, and healing. The course opens with the anthropology of the mindful body as a way of challenging and destabilizing everyday, commonsense notions of the body, illness, disease and healing. We will explore: the social production, meanings and uses of illness/disease; medicine as a system of power/knowledge; the regulation and management of dis-eased and distressed bodies and minds; the cultural shaping of emotions, memory and healing; madness, reason and psychiatry; the political economy of health and disease, epidemics, and social suffering; the new bio-technologies and the redefinition of life, death and human value that they bring, with particular focus on transplant surgery. Along the way, we will explore the cultural logic and modernity of beliefs and practices of sorcery and witchcraft as explanations of sickness and other unfortunate events, the power and efficacy of shamanism, spirit possession and of symbols to articulate misfortune and to heal. Finally, the course will deal with poverty, hunger, sickness and premature death with a particular focus on Northeast Brazil during the military dictatorship years (1964-1984) and the decades following the democratic transition. The last unit of the course will look at medicine and human rights via the engaged research, doctoring, and human rights, and the different versions of medical "activism" represented in the lives and work of physician-anthropologists Paul Farmer (Partners on Health), Didier Fassin (MSF, Medecins sans Frontieres) and Arthur Kleinman. Medical anthropology provides a critical reflection on the ways that people ( both as sick individuals and as threatened populations) live, suffer, sicken, and die. It explores the diverse paths towards reaching a goal of -- if not "health for all" (the utopian WHO premise) --less death for the many.

For more detailed information about classes, please visit the UC Berkeley Online Schedule of Classes.