• Offered by School of Archaeology and Anthropology
  • ANU College ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences
  • Course subject Anthropology
  • Areas of interest Anthropology, Development Studies, Health Medicine and the Body, Sociology, Public Health
  • Academic career PGRD
  • Mode of delivery In Person

Medical anthropology is founded on an epistemological ‘openness’ to alternative understandings of the body, illness, disease, and healing. It explores how health is at once a biological, social, and historical fact. Anthropology assumes a ‘body’ that is both biologically given as well as culturally invented and historically situated so that we can even speak of ‘local biologies’. This course introduces methods of studying and understanding how the body, health, and healing are shaped by historical processes, political struggles and cultural meanings as well as the knowledge and power of expanding global biomedicine and biotechnologies. In offering a comparative perspective on human afflictions, suffering and healing in societies, we will explore the cultural and historical specificity of what appear to be biological givens, and do so by drawing from a variety of anthropological questions, theoretical approaches, and research methods. The course introduces both the specificity of local medical cultures and the global processes that increasingly link these systems of knowledge and practice. In examining the social and political economic shaping of illness and suffering we will identify how medical and healing systems - including biomedicine – as social institutions are also sources of epistemological authority. In the process, we will critically examine old and emergent biotechnologies and the way biomedical knowledge is produced, learned, and maintains authority over expanding areas of human life.

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 an anthropological perspective to the study of the body, illness, disease, and healing, and in the analyses of contemporary local, national, and global health inequalities.
  2. Examine and place the development of select biotechnologies in their historical, sociocultural, and political contexts.
  3. Analyse how contemporary health conditions are understood and treated in a variety of social and medical settings, and do so with accurate and effective application of medical anthropology concepts and theories.
  4. Apply anthropological theories methods to the analyses of individual’s illness experiences and social processes in biomedical settings.
  5. Analyze ways in which the human body both shapes and is shaped by sociocultural, historical, and political processes and the significance of biological determinism in debates about social inequality.
  6. Identify and critically evaluate key questions and theoretical approaches used in the anthropological study of the body.
  7. Further develop skills in critical reading, thinking, writing, and public presentation.

Indicative Assessment

Writing Critical Reflections (6x300 words) 25% [LO 1, 5]]
Participation in tutorial and online forum discussions 10% [LO 1, 5]
Research Project (Total 65%)
• Project Paper/Mini-Ethnography (4000 words) 40% [LO 2,3,4]
• Conference Style Presentation (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: 24 hours of lectures and 12 hours of tutorials and tutorial-like activities; and
b) 94 hours of independent student research, reading, and writing.

Requisite and Incompatibility

You are not able to enrol in this course if you have previously completed ANTH2138

Preliminary Reading

John Comaroff and Jean Comaroff. 1992 Medicine, Colonialism, and the Black Body. Ethnography and the Historical Imagination. Westview Press. pp. 215-234.

Stacey Langwick, ‘Devils, Parasites, and Fierce Needles: Healing and the Politics of Translation in Southern Tanzania’, Science, Technology & Human Values, 32 (2007), 88- 117.

Löwy, Ilana and George Weisz. 2005. French Hormones: Progestins and Therapeutic Variation in France. Social Science & Medicine 60: 2609-2622.

Clarence Gravlee. 2009. How race becomes biology: embodiment of social inequality. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 139(1), 47-57.

Sunder Rajan, Kaushik. 2005. “Subjects of Speculation: Emergent Life Sciences and Market
Logics in the United States and India.” American Anthropologist 107 (1):19-30.


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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There are no current offerings for this course.

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