Illness and Health: An Exploration through Anthropology

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Course DatesLengthMeeting TimesStatusFormatInstructor(s)CRN
July 19, 2021 - August 11, 20217/19 - 8/113 WeeksOnlineOpenOnlineKatyayni Seth

Course Description

This course will be a people-centered investigation of affliction and healing. We will ask: How do social and political processes determine disease and health outcomes in individuals and communities? What are the role of medical technologies and public interventions in health improvements? How do we account for the economic determinants of health disparities? And how do these disparities affect the work of health care professionals? Together, we will draw from approaches in anthropology, public health, and the medical humanities to understand the body-environment-medicine interface from a cross-cultural and global perspective.

In the first half of the course, we will discuss the relation of illness, subjectivity, and social experience, and the healing efficacy of symbols and rituals. We will also probe the reach and relevance of concepts such as the normal and the pathological, body techniques, discipline and normalization, the placebo effect, the mindful body, and the body politic. In the second half of the course, we will explore how scientific knowledge and medical technologies move from the laboratory to public health policy and popular culture, and from professional medicine to the intimate realms of bodily experience (with a focus on mental illness and infectious diseases). How is medical science influenced by economic and political institutions and by patient mobilization? How do patterns of social and economic inclusion and exclusion govern access to therapies?

This course will introduce students to anthropological research methods. We will learn to collect and 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 emerging forms of life and over the theory and practice of global health.

This course will help prepare students for further studies in the fields of medicine, public health, global health and anthropology. The course instructor's interdisciplinary background--in Global Health and Population and in Anthropology--will enable them to cater to the diverse interests of students who take the course.

By the end of this course students will have learned how anthropologists approach the study of medicine, illness, health and wellbeing. They will be able to discuss theorists associated with medical anthropology; describe qualitative and quantitative research methods as they apply to anthropology; and use anthropological knowledge to think critically about the political, social, and cultural roots of health disparities and problems.

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

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEAN0943

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences for students completing grades 9-12 by June 2021.

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