Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2011-2012 (archived)


Department: Anthropology


Type Tied Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2011/12 Module Cap None.
Tied to L6K507


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To examine key theoretical positions and debates in historical and contemporary medical anthropology in relation to health, illness and healing.
  • Enable students to develop the analytical skills to recognise and critique different theories, and apply them within their own professional practice.


  • The module provides advanced knowledge and understanding of key concepts and theoretical debates in medical anthropology. It reviews the history of theory in medical anthropology, including symbolic, interpretive, phenomenological and critical accounts of health and illness, and how these approaches have been employed in a range of cultural settings. More recent theoretical debates have taken into account rapid social changes (such as biotechnology, globalisation, urbanisation and commodification of health) that have posed new challenges to medical anthropology, particularly around ideas of the body, personhood and social relatedness. Ethnographic examples highlight the continuities and conflicts between local and global contexts of health care, and the interface of traditional beliefs with biotechnology/medicine. In line with Nancy Scheper-Hughes definition of ‘critically applied medical anthropology’, this module does not separate anthropological theory from practice, but promotes theoretical frameworks as central devices to critiquing and informing the processes involved in the experience and management of health and illness.
  • Key theoretical topics may include:
  • Foucault and technologies of power and governmentality;
  • Bourdieu, habitus, social class and ‘lifestyle’ diseases;
  • Theories of embodiment (including phenomenology);
  • Social relatedness and kinship in genomics, new reproductive technologies and illness experiences;
  • Critical medical anthropology and political economy approaches to health and illness;
  • The politics of social suffering and structural violence;
  • The anthropology of space, place and health;
  • Interrelations between migration and health;
  • Transcultural psychiatry.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Have an advanced knowledge of the defining key theoretical debates in medical anthropology.
  • Articulate why theoretical frames are relevant for an understanding of the body, health and illness.
  • Ability to apply theoretical insights to ethnographic texts and contexts, and wider domains of health care policy and practice.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • An ability to read and critically evaluate the works of medical anthropologists and situate them in terms of theoretical positions.
  • Competency to conduct in-depth and theoretically informed analysis of a particular issue relating to health and health care practices.
  • Engage anthropological arguments in relation to the fields of medicine and international health.
Key Skills:
  • Prepare and present scholarly work for seminars and assessment.
  • Independent and critical reading of ethnographies.
  • Ability to integrate and apply new knowledge and skills in professional practice.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Lectures/seminars
  • Presentation.
  • Exam.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures/seminars - the format and duration of these lectures/seminars will vary. Some will be student-led, others will be tutor-led. 22 22
Preparation and Reading 278
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Critical Essay Component Weighting: 30%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Critical Review 2500 100%
Component: Examination Component Weighting: 70%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Examination 3 hours 100%

Formative Assessment:


Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University