AG Medical Anthropology


Culture, Health and Illness in Africa (II):
Research Approaches in Medical Anthropology

Sommersemester 2005

PD Dr. Brigit Obrist van Eeuwijk (
Ethnologisches Seminar der Universität Basel

This advanced course in Medical Anthropology concentrates on the development of theoretical perspectives since the early 1980s. Particular attention is given to approaches rooted in an interpretive paradigm. The underlying assumption is that illness and healing always imply chains of implicit or explicit interpretation. The sick person, those who take care of her and the healer interpret signs, symptoms and causes of the illness against the background of everyday knowledge and/or expert knowledge available in a given society. If the sick person is in the centre of our interest (patient centred approach), we follow her in the quest for therapy and reconstruct meanings of illness that are produced and reproduced in social (inter)action. At the same time, however, we critically examine the dialectic relationship between the sick person as an individual and the broader social, political and economic contexts in which she lives. In this seminar, the participants acquire a substantive understanding of different theoretical perspectives, they learn to weigh them against one another and to critically discuss their pros and cons for specific topics of interest.

This course is open for students in Anthropology, African Studies, Epidemiology and related disciplines. Depending on the participants the course language is either English or German.

MA students can write a research paper (at least 15 pages) in German or in English. They must discuss their proposed research topic with the instructor during office hours.


Introductory Reading:

  • Baer Hans, Merryll Singer and Ida Susser (2003) Medical Anthropology and the World System: a Critical Perspective. Westport: Praeger.
  • Brown Peter (1998) Understanding and Applying Medical Anthropology. London: Mayfield.
  • Lindenbaum Shirley and Margaret Lock, eds, (1993) Knowledge, Power and Praxis: The Anthropology of Medicine and Everyday Life. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press.