On Illness and Health: An Approach through Anthropology

Course Description

This course will introduce you to anthropological research methods. We will learn to interpret illness narratives and to study differences in patterns of disease that afflict larger populations in both affluent and resource-poor contexts. The course draws from historical accounts, contemporary ethnographies, medical journals, media reports, graphic novels, and films. We want to build awareness of the competing values and stakeholders in health decision-making (personal and institutional) and bring our insights to bear on debates over the theory and practice of global health. The course will consist of short typed lectures, discussion boards, optional group discussions recorded for those who can't attend, and an assignment designed to help students reflect on the overlap between course content and their interests.

The course is organized into three modules.

  • Module 1 includes discussions about medical professionals and families, care, and medicine through the lens of childhood and childcare.
  • Module 2 concerns circumstances wherein illness is difficult to define. Here, the question 'What is wrong?' cannot be easily answered. Boundaries between the social and the physiological, the personal and the political blur complicating biographies and autobiographies.
  • Module 3 considers how suffering is understood and made sense of when it occurs at a scale that extends beyond the individual. It studies how responses to individual suffering are at times mediated by what is happening at the population level.
By the end of this course, you will:
  • Have learned how anthropologists approach the study of medicine, illness, health, and well-being
  • Be able to discuss theorists associated with medical anthropology
  • Bescribe qualitative and quantitative research methods as they apply to anthropology
  • Use anthropological knowledge to think critically about the political, social, and cultural roots of health disparities and problems


There are no prerequisites for this course. Students with interests in anthropology, medicine, public health and global health would find the course of interest.


One Section Available to Choose From:

Online sections of Pre-College courses are offered in one of the following modalities: Asynchronous, Mostly asynchronous, or Blended. Please review full information regarding the experience here.

Dates: July 25, 2022 - August 05, 2022
Duration: 2 Weeks
Meeting Times: Online - Mostly Asynchronous
Status: Closed
Format: Online
Instructor(s): Katyayni Seth
Course Number: 10109