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DRPS : Course Catalogue : Deanery of Biomedical Sciences : Biomedical Sciences

Undergraduate Course: Medical Anthropology (BIME10063)

Course Outline
SchoolDeanery of Biomedical Sciences CollegeCollege of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate) AvailabilityNot available to visiting students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThe course aims to apply critical cross-cultural perspectives from the discipline of social anthropology to experiences of health, illness, healing, and care practices (including biomedicine). These will be explored in their socio-political and cultural contexts, and with attention to the current COVID-19 pandemic. Students will explore historical and global variation in meanings attributed to and explanations given for illness; healing systems and how these combine in 'therapeutic pluralism' in the lives of individuals and communities; anthropological contributions to implementing global health initiatives and tackling infectious diseases; and cross-cultural perspectives on death and dying. The Edinburgh Centre for Medical Anthropology in the School of Social and Political Sciences has prompted new local research collaborations between anthropologists and medical and veterinary scientists. The course will draw on these in introducing students in the Deanery of Biomedical Sciences, including intercalating MBChB and BVetSci students, to anthropological perspectives as part of a multi-disciplinary approach to their future careers as medical scientists or practitioners.
Course description The course aims to introduce students within the Deanery of Biomedical Sciences to the insights offered by social anthropology, and specifically medical anthropology (the discipline's fastest-growing sub-specialism), to the study of health, illness and healing. No prior knowledge of anthropology will be assumed and the course will be tailored to students' backgrounds as Biomedical Scientists. They will be encouraged to reflect critically on how the evidence generated through social anthropology and the ethnographic method contrasts with the forms of evidence they are more familiar with, the strengths and limitations of each, and how to bring different disciplines to bear on a building a rounded understanding of health, illness and medical practice.

The introductory part of the course will establish the relevance of medical anthropology and the ethnographic method to research and medical practice; will provide an overview of the historical development and current debates within medical anthropology; and introduce students to the methodological principles and practicalities of ethnographic research and associated research ethics.
The course will go on to apply these to substantive areas of health and medicine. These include historical and global variation in the meanings attributed to and explanations given for illness, trauma and emotional distress; the COVID-19 pandemic; non-biomedical healing systems and care practices, including traditional healing and complementary and alternative therapies; locally variable expressions of biomedicine; medicalisation of aspects of contemporary life through the examples of Post-Traumatic Stress and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders; the contribution of medical anthropology to illuminating the local contexts in which global health initiatives, including those tackling infectious diseases, are implemented; and death and dying across a variety of cultural settings.

This course is tailored to students with a background in biomedical sciences and intercalating MBChB and BVetSci students interested in exploring anthropological perspectives on health and medicine. Some will have been introduced to social science approaches to health in previous courses, for example Health, Illness and Society 3 (MSBM09003) or Health, Ethics and Society (which forms part of the MBChB). However, it is assumed that students have no prior specific knowledge of Medical Anthropology.

A scaffolded approach to learning will be taken with careful introduction of basic anthropological methods and initial application of familiar topics such as doctor-patient encounters, moving through less familiar topics and more complex concepts as the course progresses. This scaffolded approach aims at making the course accessible for students who are used to science-based teaching. Course design and layout has been guided by student input from the start, including individual and group interviews with previous students of Health, Illness and Society 3 core course for Medical Sciences students, SEAM and student involvement in a central course-planning workshop (ELDeR).

A range of teaching material will be used, including ethnographic accounts, journal articles and fieldwork vignettes, complemented by audio-visual material. Students will be expected to prepare for each class by studying required material in advance. Teaching activities in class will comprise lectures (some delivered by visiting speakers) and tutorial discussions aimed at supporting students in critically assessing qualitative evidence and building arguments. Training in anthropological methods will also include practical exercises of making and recording observations writing fieldnotes and giving peer-to-peer comments in order to enhance critical thinking and constructive feedback skills.

Edinburgh's growing reputation as a centre for research and teaching in Medical Anthropology has given rise to lively seminar series and colloquia (put on by EdCMA in collaboration with the Global Mental Health Network and Edinburgh Infectious Diseases). Students will be encouraged to participate in such events.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2023/24, Not available to visiting students (SS1) Quota:  0
Course Start Semester 1
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Lecture Hours 20, Seminar/Tutorial Hours 18, Feedback/Feedforward Hours 1, Revision Session Hours 1, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 156 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) 100% ICA
1. 1500 word essay (20%)
2. 4000 word essay (80%)
Feedback Feedback from the first assignment will be thorough and include advice on which students can build in writing their second assignment. Detailed feedback on summative assignments will be provided.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. demonstrate a critical understanding of the principal theories, concepts and methodologies underpinning medical anthropology.
  2. apply critical reflection and anthropological perspectives when working with people, texts and materials.
  3. evaluate and synthesise a range of sources to develop original, creative and well-evidenced arguments.
  4. demonstrate initiative and independent learning when engaging with and assessing anthropological debates.
Reading List
Hamdy, Sherine (2013): Not quite dead: why Egyptian doctors refuse the diagnosis of death by neurological criteria. Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics. 34(2):147-160.
Heinemann, Laura Lynn (2014): For the sake of others: Reciprocal webs of obligation and the pursuit of transplant as a caring act. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 28(1):66-84.
Helman, Cecil (2007): Culture, Health and Illness. 5th Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Lambert, Helen and McKevitt, Chris (2002): Anthropology in health research: from qualitative methods to multidisciplinarity. British Medical Journal 325:210.

Lock, Margret and Nguyen, Vinh-Kim (2010): An Anthropology of Biomedicine. Wiley-Blackwell.
MacArtney, John and Wahlberg, Ayo (2014): The Problem of Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use Today: Eyes Half Closed? Qualitative Health Research 24(1):1-10.
Manderson, Leonore, Cartwright, Elizabeth, and Hardon, Anita (2016): The Routledge Handbook of Medical Anthropology. New York/Oxon: Routledge.
Martin, Emily (1991): The Egg and the Sperm: How Science Has Constructed a Romance Based on Stereotypical Male-Female Role. Signs 16(3):485-501.
Napier, David (2020): Rethinking vulnerability through COVID-19. Anthropology Today 36(3): 1-2.
Reynolds Whyte, Susan, van der Geest, Sjaak, and Hardon, Anita (2002): Social Lives of Medicines. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Street, Alice (2014): Medicine in an Unstable Place: Infrastructure and Personhood in a Papua-New Guinean Hospital. Durham (NC): Duke University Press.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills 1. Critically evaluate and synthesise academic literature and other sources to develop original, creative and well-evidenced arguments. Throughout the course students will be challenged to be self-reflexive and re-evaluate previously held assumptions.

2. Effectively communicate their arguments to other (verbally and in writing), give and receive constructive feedback, and follow ground rules of respectful academic discussion. Students will also have learned how to identify useful literature using appropriate library sources and online search engines and how to use references and create a bibliography in the social sciences.

3. Collaborate on tasks, take on responsibilities in a team (small groups or tutorial groups) and engage in group discussions. Students will be expected to be able to do independent research and develop their own questions and arguments which they will have demonstrated in their essay.
KeywordsMedical Anthropology,cross-cultural perspectives,ethnography,social aspects of medicine
Course organiserDr Hannah McNeilly
Course secretaryMiss Sam Fisher
Tel: (0131 6)50 3160
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