• Offered by School of Archaeology and Anthropology
  • ANU College ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences
  • Classification Advanced
  • Course subject Culture, Health and Medicine
  • Areas of interest Anthropology, Biological Anthropology, Development Studies, Health Medicine and the Body, Public Health
  • Academic career PGRD
  • Course convener
    • Dr Fouzieyha Towghi
  • Mode of delivery In Person
  • Offered in First Semester 2019
    See Future Offerings

This course introduces cross-cultural comparative perspectives on indigenous medicines, healing and health in colonial and post-colonial contexts. Contemporary condition of indigenous medicines and healing practices in Australia, Hawaii, Africa, India, and Southeast Asian nations, for example, are intertwined with the history of European colonial racial and gendered objectification of “native” bodies, their medicines and healing approaches. We will examine the relationship between medicine as a tool of empire and how indigenous medicines, healthcare practices, and health have been constructed, regulated, and transformed by colonial and post-colonial science, medicine, and social policies. We will also explore how indigenous conceptions of the body, health, and approaches to care persist as distinctive from contemporary biomedical paradigm. We will explore the effects of this distinction on indigenous medicines, healing practices, and health—that today is also manifest in clinical settings worldwide as a cultural tension between the biomedical doctor and the indigenous patient. Part 1 of the course will focus on the relationship between colonial medicine and indigenous medicines. Part 2 will focus on indigenous forms of medicines and conception of health and healing. Part 3 will focus on the contemporary forms of indigenous medicines and the health of indigenous people in light of the re-emergence of molecular biology, genetic science and the rise of cultural competency paradigm in biomedicine. In the process, students will gain a historical understanding of key concepts associated with the construction of indigenous medicines such as ethnomedicine, traditional, alternative, and medical pluralism vis-à-vis the idea of what is modern and the formation of modernity. 

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion, students will have the knowledge and skills to:

Upon successful completion of this course, students will have the knowledge and skills to:
1. Effectively apply a critical anthropological perspective to the cross-cultural and comparative study of indigenous medicines, health, and healing.
2. Examine and understand the place of colonial policies, colonial medicines, and post-colonial development in present conditions of indigenous medicines, health, and healing practices.
3. Critically analyze how and why indigenous conceptions of the body, health, and approaches to care persist as distinctive from contemporary biomedical paradigm.
4. Examine and discuss the relationship between historical and contemporary forms of indigenous medicines and the re-emergence of molecular biology, genetic science and the cultural competency paradigm in biomedicine.
5. Effectively apply critical thinking and writing and debate issues of social policies pertaining to indigenous health and medicines.

Indicative Assessment

Writing Critical Reflections/Participation (6x400 words) 30% [LO 1, 5]
Research Project (Total 70%) made up from:
  - Research Paper (3600 words) 45% [LO 2, 3, 4]
  - Conference Style Presentation of paper /e.g. Powerpoint summary (10 min.) 25% [LO 2,3,4,5]

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130 hours of total student learning time made up from:
a) 36 hours of contact over 12 weeks: 22 hours of lectures and 14 hours of workshop and workshop-like activities.
b) 94 hours of independent student research, reading and writing

Preliminary Reading

David Arnold. 1988. Imperial Medicine and Indigenous Societies. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Maitrii Aung-Thwin. 2010. Healing, Rebellion, and the Law. Ethnologies of Medicine in Colonial Burma, 1928-1932. The Journal of Burma Studies. 14:151-186.
John Comaroff and Jean Comaroff. 1992 Medicine, Colonialism, and the Black Body. Ethnography and the Historical Imagination. Westview Press. pp. 215-234.
Byron J. Good. 1994. Medical Anthropology and the Problem of Belief. In Medicine, Rationality, and Experience. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 1-13.
Clarence Gravlee. 2009. How race becomes biology: embodiment of social inequality. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 139(1), 47-57.
Charles Leslie, ed. 1980. Medical Pluralism in World Perspective. Special Issue on “Medical Pluralism.” Social Science and Medicine 14B (4):190-196.


Tuition fees are for the academic year indicated at the top of the page.  

If you are a domestic graduate coursework or international student you will be required to pay tuition fees. Tuition fees are indexed annually. Further information for domestic and international students about tuition and other fees can be found at Fees.

Student Contribution Band:
Unit value:
6 units

If you are an undergraduate student and have been offered a Commonwealth supported place, your fees are set by the Australian Government for each course. At ANU 1 EFTSL is 48 units (normally 8 x 6-unit courses). You can find your student contribution amount for each course at Fees.  Where there is a unit range displayed for this course, not all unit options below may be available.

6.00 0.12500
Domestic fee paying students
Year Fee
2019 $3360
International fee paying students
Year Fee
2019 $5160
Note: Please note that fee information is for current year only.

Offerings, Dates and Class Summary Links

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The list of offerings for future years is indicative only.
Class summaries, if available, can be accessed by clicking on the View link for the relevant class number.

First Semester

Class number Class start date Last day to enrol Census date Class end date Mode Of Delivery Class Summary
4400 25 Feb 2019 04 Mar 2019 31 Mar 2019 31 May 2019 In Person View
4401 25 Feb 2019 04 Mar 2019 31 Mar 2019 31 May 2019 Online View

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