MEDFL5280 – Introduction to medical anthropology

Schedule, syllabus and examination date

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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 technologies and localized biomedical practices.

  • What an approach that takes people, objects and policies as a starting point can tell us about the wider societal, cultural and political implications of global health initiatives.

    The course will proceed through case studies such as comparative perspectives on the body; medical pluralism; pharmaceuticals; new reproductive technologies; maternal health; transnational clinical trials; global health policy and practice; hospitals and health institutions; migration and health; and medical humanitarianism.

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, and the meaning of ‘local biologies’
  • The field of ‘global health’, including topics such as HIV/AIDS interventions, the Ebola epidemic, medical humanitarianism; maternal health policy, and health systems
  • Students will learn 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:  medicalization, explanatory models of illness, embodiment, structural violence, biopower, social suffering


Students will be able to

  • Link case studies to wider debates and concepts in medical anthropology concerning the relations between biology, culture and society.
  • Explain key concepts in medical anthropology and apply these to particular case studies
  • Explain how power and political economy is relevant to heath and healing
  • Critically analyse global health policy development and initiatives
  • Critically discuss globalization of biomedicine, and some of its ramifications

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.         


The course is restricted to students at the Medical Student Research Programme at the Faculty of Medicine and the Faculty of Dentistry, UiO.

Students apply in StudentWeb.

The courses MEDFL5280 and HES9280 – Introduction to medical anthropology have common admission.


Formal prerequisite knowledge

No obligatory prerequisites beyond the minimum requirements for entrance to higher education in Norway.

Overlapping courses

5 credits overlap with HES9280 – 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.

Language of examination

You may write your examination paper in Norwegian, Swedish, Danish or English.

Explanations and appeals

Withdrawal from an examination

It is possible to take the exam up to 3 times. If you withdraw from the exam after the deadline or during the exam, this will be counted as an examination attempt.

Special examination arrangements

Application form, deadline and requirements for special examination arrangements.

Facts about this course






Every autumn

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


Every autumn

Teaching language