BASS Sociology and Criminology / Course details

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Medical Anthropology

Course unit fact file
Unit code SOAN30062
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Anthropology
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course is informed theoretically by ethnographies drawn primarily from the anthropology of medicine and from science and technology studies (STS). Our purpose is to consider medicine’s contemporary relevance to subjectivity, culture, and society. Theoretical foci include the interface of medicine and anthropology, cultures of biomedicine, pharmaceutical markets, profit-driven psychopharmacology, pharmaceutalization, medicalization, and the bio-economy. Substantive topics will include mental illness, drug addiction, HIV/AIDS, sexual health, medical training, and clinical trials. Although this class is designed primarily for students of anthropology and medical students, it is open to those from other disciplines with the instructor’s permission. 


This course unit aims to provide a critical overview of contemporary theoretical issues in the anthropology of medicine and science and technology studies (STS). Drawing extensively upon recent ethnographies from different parts of the world in order to contextualise theoretical approaches, the course will examine some key debates and relate these debates to wider issues of theory and method in social anthropology.

Learning outcomes

  • Critically historicize different, and at times competing, forms of knowledge pertaining to health and illness.
  • Critically evaluate the position of modern medicine and pharmacology within contemporary global capitalism.
  • Analyse the aesthetics medical knowledge and the role of metaphor in modern medicine.

Teaching and learning methods

Lectures/Films/Group work. Group work will consist of presentations and discussions of key texts in the reading pack and the opportunity to seek clarification of the material presented in lectures.

Assessment methods

4,000 word essay 100%

Feedback methods

Feedback will be given on the assessed essay for the course. Additional optional feedback will be given on a non-compulsory mid-term essay.

Recommended reading


Andrew Lakoff, 2006. Pharmaceutical Reason: Knowledge & Value in Global Psychiatry. Cambridge.

Julie Livingston, 2012, Improvising Medicine:  An African Oncology Ward  in an Emerging Cancer Epidemic, Durham:  Duke  University Press.

Margaret Lock and Vinh-Kim Nguyen, 2010. An Anthropology of Biomedicine.  Wiley-Blackwell.

Nikolas Rose and Joelle Abi-Rached, 2013. Neuro: the New Brain Sciences and the Management of the mind. Princeton UP.

Rachel Prentice, 2013, Bodies  in Formation: An Ethnography of Anatomy and Surgery Education, Duke University Press.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 20
Seminars 9
Independent study hours
Independent study 171

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Caroline Parker Unit coordinator

Additional notes



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