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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Social and Political Science : Social Anthropology

Undergraduate Course: Contagion (SCAN10070)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Social and Political Science CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 3 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryInfectious diseases have impacted human relations in profound and far reaching ways. Drawing on a range of pathogens, this course examines their historical, social and economic impact.
Course description Infectious diseases have had a profound impact on human history. In this course we take a broad historical approach to understanding the relationships between people and microbes. Drawing on the work of cultural historians, anthropologists and epidemiologists we take a wide-ranging cross-disciplinary look at the phenomenon and the impact that infectious diseases have had on societies across the world. We shall look at the role of fear, migration, the state, globalisation and trade, the rise of magic bullets and antibiotics, the part of the laboratory and modern diagnostics, and art in both the way that infections have moulded culture, and our responses to this. We will also reflect on how these historical and social science perspectives prepared us for dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. How has our understanding of infectious diseases changed as a consequence of the pandemic?

Indicative themes may include the following: How history and contagion are intertwined and the relationship between the two; migration, the state, and the impact of infectious disease control policies; the way art has responded to contagion, and the relationship to fear and anxiety in the face of death (for example from Goya to Romero); how have eradication narratives have impacted on our relationship with microbes (eg smallpox); What has AIDS and tuberculosis taught us about the socio-political drivers of infection?; What role has the development and availability of antibiotics (the magic bullet) had in the rise of so-called 'super-bugs'; How have these organisms been identified, and what is the role of the laboratory in science and society; 'The coming plague' and what happens when bugs cross from animals to humans; What has been the impact of the Ebola crisis on international relations and our understanding of outbreaks?; How do pathogens fit into warfare and terror?
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesVisiting students should have at least 3 Anthropology courses at grade B or above (or be predicted to obtain this). We will only consider University/College level courses.
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2023/24, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  34
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Lecture Hours 22, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 174 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Short essay 20%
Long essay 80%
Feedback Students will be asked to write an essay, focusing on a contemporary infective issue (this could be Ebola, 'bird flu', HIV, etc. and the impact this has had on human relations. A range of websites will be made available for this purpose (eg the WHO, Centre for Disease Control (CDC) etc.). These will be marked and fed back during the course. The first summative assessment will be used to feedback to students on their understanding of analyses that lie outside for their disciplinary training and to allow focus for the final assessment. As the course is likely to draw on students from a range of disciplines, individual feedback will arranged to comment on their understanding of the issues that lie outside their particular training (for example, medical students on key social science themes, and anthropologists on epidemiology and basic medical concepts).
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. A clear understanding of the role of infectious disease in both history and social organization.
  2. Understand how infectious disease leads to a deeper understanding of issues relating to globalization, international politics and global health.
  3. Analyse these issues - of infection, and its consequences - from an anthropological perspective.
  4. Develop an understanding of infectious diseases from perspectives not directly related to their core disciplinary training, for example historical dimension for anthropologists, or anthropological analyses for medical students.
  5. Learn from each other on the key disciplinary issues from which students draw (for example, medicine and anthropology).
Reading List
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
KeywordsInfectious disease; history; contagion; plague; ebola; medical anthropology
Course organiserDr Laurie Denyer Willis
Tel: (0131 6)50 3878
Course secretaryMiss Karen Leung
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