Anthropology (ANTH) 499

Medical Anthropology (Revision 3)

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Delivery Mode: Individualized study online with video component.* or Grouped study.
*Overseas students, please contact the University Library before registering in a course that has an audio/visual component.

Credits: 3

Area of Study: Social Science

Prerequisite: ANTH 275 and at least one 300 level social/cultural anthropology course OR ANTH 275 and a third year Health Science course OR permission of the course professor.

Faculty: Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences

Anthropology Studies home page

ANTH 499 is not available for challenge.

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ANTH 499 examines the notion that health and illness are not entities in themselves, but rather culturally constituted means of both representing and shaping human experience and reality. The course looks at different medical systems within particular cultural contexts. It also investigates several important themes including healers, medical pluralism, Indigenous medicine, the political economy of health and illness, the medicalization of social life, and the relationship between belief and the construction of clinical realities. The main theoretical approaches in medical anthropology are analyzed in the context of their strengths and weaknesses, which helps explain the ideologies and practices behind each system.


The course consists of the following eight units.
  • Unit 1: Introduction to Medical Anthropology
  • Unit 2: Theoretical Perspectives in Medical Anthropology
  • Unit 3: Biomedicine as a Cultural Category
  • Unit 4: Quantifying Health and Illness
  • Unit 5: The Social and Political Determinants of Health
  • Unit 6: Healers and their Patients in Ethnographic Context
  • Unit 7: Magic, Religion, and Healing
  • Unit 8: Cross-cultural Psychiatry


To receive credit for ANTH 499, you must complete three telephone quizzes and four written assignments—two essays, a research paper proposal, and a final research paper and achieve an overall grade of “D” (50 percent) for the entire course. There are no examinations in this course. The weighting of composite grade is as follows:

Quiz 1 Essay 1 Quiz 2 Essay 2 Quiz 3 Research Paper Proposal Final Research Paper Total
5% 20% 5% 20% 5% 5% 40% 100%

Course Materials


Farmer, Paul. 2005. Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Payer, Lynn. 1996. Medicine and Culture: Varieties of Treatment in the United States, England, West Germany, and France. New York: Henry Holt and Company.

Trostle, James A. 2005. Epidemiology and Culture. Cambridge Studies in Medical Anthropology. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Young, David, Grant Ingram, and Lise Swartz. 2003. Cry of the Eagle: Encounters with a Cree Healer. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Other materials

The course materials also include an Athabasca University-produced student manual, study guide, and a reader.

Special Course Features

Athabasca University Library has copies of the following videos that students are expected to view as part of this course.

Alamelu's Illness (video recording). Written and produced by Michael Yorke. Bristol: BBC, International Tele-Film, 1986.

Doctors Yang, Liou and Zheng (video recording). Written by Ted Kaptchuk and Michael Croucher. Produced by Michael Croucher. Bristol: BBC, International Tele-Film, 1986.

The Inner Journey (video recording). Written and produced by Michael Yorke. Bristol: BBC, International Tele-Film, 1986.

Athabasca University reserves the right to amend course outlines occasionally and without notice. Courses offered by other delivery methods may vary from their individualized-study counterparts.

Opened in Revision 3, December 14, 2009.

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