HES9280 – Introduction to medical anthropology

Schedule, syllabus and examination date

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Course content

Course content

This course introduces anthropological perspectives on health, illness, the body and medicine, and explores the interactions between biology, society and culture. It aims to present a contextual and comparative approach in which cultural and social dimensions of health-related issues are emphasized and placed within broader political and historical processes.

  • Health, the body, illness and treatment in social and cultural perspectives, including different medical traditions
  • Critical approaches to power and the political economy of health covering inequity in health and healing.
  • The globalization of biomedical science and technology and localized medical practices.
  • Focus on people, communities, livelihoods, and policies
  • The wider societal, cultural and political implications of global health initiatives.

The course will proceed through case studies and theoretical interventions to provide critical and  comparative perspectives on the body; medical pluralism; pharmaceuticals; new reproductive technologies; maternal health; transnational clinical trials; global health policy and practice; mental health, drugs and drug use; and the relationship between health and the environment.

Learning outcome


The student will learn about anthropological perspectives and approaches to

  • Comparative studies of health, illness, the body and medicine
  • How structural and socio-economic inequalities (concerning poverty, gender, race and ethnicity) impact on bodily wellbeing, the pursuit of health, and access to treatment
  • The globalization of biomedicine as science and practice and the meaning of medical pluralism
  • The field of ‘global health’, including topics such as pandemic interventions, medical humanitarianism; mental health; maternal health policy; harm reduction; and health and ecology.
  • Ethnographic methodology and understand how it is used to explore the relations between policy and local practices, or the relations between social inequality and ill health.
  • Get an understanding of key theoretical and analytical concepts that are used in medical anthropology, such as: biomedicalization, explanatory models of illness, embodiment, structural violence, therapeutic citizenship, slow violence, biopower, social suffering, ontological multiplicity, material semiotics, decoloniality

General competence    

Students will be able to engage with debates about health, illness and medicine in a cross-cultural perspective, in both oral and written forms.                     


PhD candidates and students on the Medical Student Research Programme at UiO will get first priority admission to the course. 

Applicants who are admitted to a PhD programme or the Medical Student Research Programme at UiO apply for PhD courses in medicine and health sciences in StudentWeb
Applicants who are not admitted to a PhD programme or the Medical Student Research Programme at UiO must apply for a right to study in SøknadsWeb before they can apply for PhD courses in medicine and health sciences.  External applicants should apply for a right to study 3 weeks before the course application deadline. 

Applicants will be notified by email 1 - 2 weeks after the final date for registration.

Overlapping courses

5 credits overlap with MEDFL5280 – Introduction to medical anthropology


Lectures followed by group work, including group assignments.

You have to participate in at least 80 % of the teaching to be allowed to take the exam. Attendance at lectures will be registered.


The course participants will be evaluated as pass/fail, based on one written assignment during the class, active participation during seminars, oral presentation of an ethnography, and a take home essay after the course, to be submitted two weeks after course completion..  


Facts about this course






Every autumn

Week 48: 23.-27th of November, 9.15 am to 15.00 pm everyday.


Every autumn

Teaching language