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Medical Anthropology


Admission requirements

Required course(s):

None, but Global Histories of Health, Medicine and Disease and/or Social Determinants of Health are recommended.


This course provides a medical anthropological perspective on key topics in Global Public Health. The course starts with a foundational series of lectures, discussing key-concepts and theoretical orientations in medical anthropology. We will then dive into various topics researched by medical anthropologists and relevant for global health, including the making of evidence in global health, the production of biomedical knowledge, gender-categories, sexuality and reproductive health, multi-species anthropology and planetary health, chronic disease and wellbeing, and medical pluralism.

Throughout the course, we look at conditions of dis-ease as having social as well as biological origins and take the point of view that ideas of health and methods of treating illness are deeply lodged in cultural frameworks. We treat healing practices, including biomedicine, as inevitably predicated on cultural systems of understanding and larger structures of power. How people understand illness and where it comes from, and what they do about it when it does occur, tells us much about how different societies understand people and their place in the world. We use these insights to analyze global health interventions through a critical global health lens: looking at the politics that pushes certain interventions and the ideological and technocratic ‘baggage’ they travel with. During the course we also direct attention to Medical Anthropology’s place in the enterprise of Global Health. While we discuss different strands of Medical Anthropology, a critical global health narrative focusing on asking critical questions about knowledge production and Medical Anthropology’s role herein runs through the course. As such a focus on creative methodology and experiments in writing and analysis are core to the course and will feature differently each week.

You will be asked to use course content to reflect on and become aware of every-day ‘texts and narratives’: a statistic that is used in a public health report, a conversation with a person. You will also be asked to reflect on your own positionality – reflexivity is a core skill in anthropology – through the project that you will work on during the course.

Course Objectives


  • Can extract the conceptual/analytical lens from an anthropological article and apply this to a practical global health problem.

  • Can outline the main medical anthropological debates on the following topics: Evidence production in Global Health, the Anthropology of Biomedicine, Sexual and Reproductive health, Gender, Multispecies & Future Health, Chronic Living and Care.

  • Know what is meant with representation in Medical Anthropology and how this translates in discussions on knowledge production, Ethics and Evidence.


  • Know how to translate theoretical concepts into concrete discussion questions

  • Can present ‘anthropological knowledge’ in different formats (presentation, book review, book review, interactive blogpost) and knows how form influences knowledge production.

  • Are able to practice reflexivity (how your own positionality shapes the way you interpret the world)

  • Team-work skills: building on each other’s strengths, work division, project planning communication skills with professors and each other.


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2023-2024 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

There will be two contact-moments a week. In the Monday session we lay the groundwork for the thematic discussion of the week. You will receive a 30 min lecture, followed by a discussion of literature. The Thursday lecture is structured around a case-study of anthropological fieldwork. This can be a guestlecture but four Thursday sessions will be dedicated to a group presentation of an ethnography/book, which is the main ‘product’ anthropologies produce. The ethnographies are thematically linked to the week but differ in methodology. Students are responsible for the direction of class on these four Thursdays (which coaching from the teacher). The ethnographies will be listed two weeks before the start of the course. Students should expect to read extensively, engage in interactive discussion and to critically reflect on their own positionality.

Assessment Method

  • Participation (10%)

  • Ethnography presentation (45%) – group work: including written review and presentation.

  • Interactive blog (45%) – individual work: applying an anthropological concept to a topic and using a creative method to represent the topic

Reading list


Will include weekly readings and four selected ethnographies on core course themes (for example Global Health Data, Biomedicine/Hospitals, Gender/Sexuality, Planetary Health, Non-Communicable disease/healing).


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


Dr. Josien de Klerk,