AG Medical Anthropology

Vorlesungen und Seminare

zum Thema “Health Transition and Medical Pluralism in a Globalized World”

Sommersemester 2006

(Innerhalb des Anthropology Module “Anthropology of Health, Illness and Treatment”)
Verena Keck (
Institute for the Study of Ideas and Cultures, Scientific Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Ljubljana, Slovenien

In this course we will address a broad spectrum of health challenges and local responses to them, in a rapidly globalizing world. In doing so, we will examine key concepts in today’s medical anthropology as they are embedded in the context of ethnographic case-studies from the contemporary Pacific and elsewhere. These concepts include: medical pluralism, indigenous medicine and the alternative or complementary use of biomedicine, health transition, disease, illness and sickness, the notion of a medical system, explanatory models, culture bound syndromes, health seeking behaviour, and therapy managing group.


1 The first lecture explores differing notions of disease and illness, indigenous conceptions of personhood, emotions, morality and social equilibrium among the Yupno, a people in Papua New Guinea. Central to their understanding of sickness are imbalances in bodily humours and disturbed, burdened social relations.


2. The second lecture focuses on a neurodegenerative disease in Micronesia that is related to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. We will reflect on the difficulties of medical anthropological fieldwork, with its own specific methods, and on the advantages of interdisciplinary cooperation between anthropologists and biomedical doctors. We will also consider the issues that arise when anthropology is applied to medical problems.


3. Our first seminar will focus on the health transition in the Pacific. This term refers to the diseases of modernity and urbanisation such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. We will consider the changing cultural constructions of the body that attend these transitions, the role of indigenous healers as keepers of tradition and identity, and traditional medicine as used „at home“ and by transnational migrants in a diasporic setting.


3. The second meeting will look at a field that has been more recently investigated in Medical Anthropology, the anthropology of disability. While the WHO has developed an International Classification, under the umbrella term „disablement“, for universal application, conceptualizations of disability differ widely between societies where contrasting abilities are required in everyday life; such conceptualizations are closely connected to emic concepts of personhood.


5. Globalization and HIV/AIDS as a global epidemic will be the topic of this final meeting. HIV is mainly transmitted sexually, and is fought worldwide using a biomedical model based on Western concepts of the body, disease, prevention and curing. However, as studies from Africa and the Pacific show, cultural, moral and religious processes have been becoming essential parts of the ways HIV/AIDS is locally understood and accommodated.