Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2014-2015 (archived)

Module ANTH42415: Evolutionary Perspectives on Reproductive and Infant Health

Department: Anthropology

ANTH42415: Evolutionary Perspectives on Reproductive and Infant Health

Type Open Level 4 Credits 15 Availability Not available in 2014/15 Module Cap


  • • Undergraduate module on evolutionary theory or equivalent


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • This module aims to expose students to the perspective of evolutionary medicine as applied to reproductive and infant health; and to encourage the critical appraisal of the management of various aspects of reproductive and infant health issues by western biomedicine in the light of evolutionary theory.


  • This takes the viewpoint that many contemporary aspects of human reproduction and infant development that we consider ‘health issues’ are products of our evolutionary heritage that have become inappropriately pathologised. In some cases so-called medical conditions are related to an incompatibility between the lifestyles and environments in which humans currently live and the conditions under which human biology evolved. In other cases what appears clinically pathological is evolutionarily normal when variations in life history strategies are understood. This module explores ways in which questions about reproductive and infant health and disease can be re-framed in consideration of an evolutionary perspective, how evolutionary hypotheses regarding health issues can be tested, and whether new suggestions about intervention into and treatment of reproductive and infant health ‘conditions’ can be made using an evolutionary perspective. The module will cover issues such as precocial puberty, teenage motherhood, maternal-foetal conflict & gestational diabetes; nausea and vomiting in pregnancy, the evolutionary obstetrical dilemma, infant care strategies, sudden infant death, infanticide and child abuse, duration of breastfeeding and timing of weaning.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • By the end of the module students should be able to:
  • Understand and explain the application of evolutionary perspectives to a variety of contemporary reproductive and infant health issues
  • Understand the value of a cross-cultural perspective in informing the evolutionary medicine of reproductive and infant health
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Articulate how an evolutionary perspective to reproductive and infant health might inform current health care practices and interventions.
  • Be able to critically evaluate evolutionary explanations of reproductive and infant health issues and be able to articulate how these might be tested
  • Be able to synthesise evolutionary theory with contemporary understandings of reproductive and infant health.
Key Skills:
  • Ability to engage in discussion and debate on theoretical and practical issues.
  • Ability to present verbal summaries of data and theoretical perspectives based on readings of academic literature
  • Ability to present written summaries of debates and argue for a particular perspective using research based evidence.
  • • Ability to synthesize and integrate material across topics and apply cross-cutting theoretical perspectives.

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

  • 8 Weekly seminars – research led and student directed
  • Essay plan 400 words

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 8 weekly 1.5 hours 12
Preparation & Reading 138
Total 150

Summative Assessment

Component: Contribution to reading blog Component Weighting: 20%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Contribution to reading blog 100%
Component: Essay Component Weighting: 80%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 2500 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

Essay Plan 400 words

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