Special Study Module (Year 4) in Medical Anthropology

Teaching for Oxford Medical School

Special Study Module (Year 4) in Medical Anthropology:

(HT 2018: 12 February – 9 March)



Medical anthropology is a subfield of social anthropology concerned with how human societies respond to and shape experiences of health, illness and recovery. It also studies culturally conditioned perceptions of the body, social well-being and ‘the normal’.  For medical anthropologists, being ill is not only a biological event but also a social one. Getting well is a social as well as a biological process.

This course adopts a social anthropology lens to comment on the medical. More specifically it develops a social commentary on biomedicine (the medicine which is taught at medical school and delivered in the NHS).  We show the ways in which medical practices entail distinctive ways of ordering experience and constructing reality, and the central role that language and daily bodily routines play in these processes.  We move on to critically examine ways in which technological advances in biomedicine reconstitute the doctor-patient relationships, intervene in the wider social fields of home, community and the state, and reconfigure existential life crises such as conception, gestation, birth and death.  

Students are expected to undertake the necessary reading, to engage in discussion and to develop a project poster.


Course aims

  • To enable students to develop their ability in critical thinking applied to medicine
  • To provide students with the oppportunity to develop and present their own anthropologically informed arguments in an area of medicine that is of interest to them


Learning Objectives

  • Introduction to basic concepts of medical anthropology
  • Citical thinking about medicine


Course Convenors

  • Dr Paola Esposito, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology
  • Prof Elisabeth Hsu, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology



  • Dr Paola Esposito, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology



Lectures: Mondays 2-3pm

Tutorial Classes: Tuesdays & Thursdays 12-1pm

Project Tutorials: Wednesdays & Thursdays 10-11.30am


Course Structure

Lectures (PE): 8 lectures in 4 weeks, Hillary Term 2018

Week 1. 12 February: patients, practitioners and paraphernalia

Week 2. 19 February: Illness narratives and case histories

Week 3. 26 February: reproductive technology and organ transplant

Week 4. 5 March: Biosociality and biocitizenship



Tutorial Classes (PE): 1 tutorial for 2 readings per week

Project meetings (PE):  2 per week, 30 mins individually

Seminar attendance:
Green Templeton College (GTC) Film & Discussion Group
Anthropology Research Group at Oxford on Eastern Medicines and Religions (ArgO-EMR)
Unity for Biocultural Variation and Obesity (UBVO)
Fertility & Reproduction Study Group (FRSG)


List of site pages