Cultural Worlds of Health and Illness


This course offers an introduction to medical and critical medical anthropology, and the related cross-cultural and inter-cultural belief systems that relate to health and illness. We will explore different cultural understandings and conceptualisations of health and illness causality, and consider the practices different cultural groups use and apply to take care of their health and illness. Using a wide range of ethnographic case studies, the different lectures will examine cross-cultural and inter-cultural approaches to the social construction of health and illness, the role of symbolism in healing, shamanistic practices, embodiment and emotions, biomedicine and science-based approaches to health and illness, reproduction, gender, health and surrogacy, cultural differences between health and well-being, alternative healing practices, health promotion and regulation, bodily and mental disorders, as well as the working with medical technologies (such as organ transplantation, and more generally, screening the body).



  • Semester 1 - 2016

On-Line from Callaghan

  • Semester 1 - 2016

Learning Outcomes

1. Demonstrate an appreciation of the depth and the breadth of knowledge in the social sciences

2. Demonstrate a capacity to think critically and creatively about societies and culture, as well as their personal participation in and contribution to their society and culture

3. Demonstrate high level oral and written communication skills

4. Demonstrate responsiveness to the demands of the workplace, the broader community, and engagement in development studies and with applied approaches.

5. Demonstrate an understanding of the different theoretical perspectives used to study cultural practices of health and illness.

6. Demonstrate knowledge of the way in which experiences are culturally constituted and socially controlled.

7. Demonstrate an ability to critically analyse cultural understandings, representations and social practices.

8. Demonstrate skills in giving oral or online presentations, writing academic essays, undertaking and contributing to applied and policy research.


Topics may include:

  1. Theories of the way in which experiences are symbolically, socially and culturally constituted
  2. Theories of social and cultural approaches to health and illness
  3. Ethnographic studies of how relationships are negotiated, understandings mediated and meanings constructed, with a particular emphasis on cultural difference
  4. Classic and contemporary ethnographic studies of health and illness
  5. The political economy of health and illness.

Assumed Knowledge

40 units of study at 1000 level

Assessment Items

Essay: Essay 1

In Term Test: Take Home Exam

Presentation: Presentation

Participation: Tutorial Participation

Contact Hours

Callaghan and On-Line from Callaghan


Face to Face On Campus 1 hour(s) per Week for Full Term

Face-to face or online lecture for 1 Hour per Week for the Full Term


Face to Face On Campus 1 hour(s) per Week for Full Term

Tutorial for 1 Hour per Week for the Full Term or Engagement in online tutorial as well as self-directed learning