Medical Anthropology

Medical Anthropology at Oxford offers a full programme of teaching and research at Oxford’s Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology (ISCA).

The one-year MSc degree in Medical Anthropology is a conversion course, which provides extensive teaching that combines social and bio-anthropological approaches to the study of health and healing in diverse societies and cultures (3 papers and one option paper). It allows students to engage in a broad range of health-related topics, from both social and biological anthropology frameworks, in cross-cultural perspective. Across the first two terms teaching is mainly lecture-based, in concert with weekly tutorials. 

The two-year MPhil degree in Medical Anthropology consolidates this knowledge through intensive training in anthropological research methods. It is a research degree that consolidates the knowledge acquired in the first year through intensive training in anthropological research methods and immersion in a one year-long research project. It is undertaken independently by the student on a topic of their choice but with guidance by senior staff in individual supervisions. It provides the same broad teaching as the MSc course in the first year, while the second year allows students to engage deeply in anthropological research methods and practice. The main emphasis is on writing an original 30,000 word dissertation, which students develop through one-on-one tutorials with their supervisor. Students also prepare for longer-term anthropological research through classes in critical reading, qualitative field methods and quantitative analysis.

Both courses are open to university graduates in any field who can demonstrate motivation and purpose for incorporating medical anthropology into their longer-term career goals. Applicants from any country are welcome, provided that their English is proficient (e.g. they have passed the IELTS or TOEFL test).


MSc in Medical Anthropology

The MSc in Medical Anthropology is a conversion course, which provides extensive teaching that combines social and bio-anthropological approaches to the study of heath and healing in diverse societies and cultures. It consists of four Papers and a 10,000 word dissertation (submitted in late August). The three core Papers, taught across Michaelmas and Hilary Terms, each comprise 16 lectures, 3 tutorials, and 1 debate. Students also select an Option Paper, which may have a topical or regional focus, based on their own interests.

Further information about the three core Papers and Option Papers:

(16 hours, Michaelmas Term)


This course provides an overview of the major debates in medical anthropology since its beginnings (in the morning), and presents how these discussions have developed into a commentary on biotechnology, bio-citizenship and bio-spirituality in more recent years (in the afternoon). The course is core to the masters courses in medical anthropology, and lays the foundations for Paper 3.1, Anthropological approaches to the phenomenology of the body, and for the Option paper Sensory experience in therapeutics, that are taught in Hilary Term. Paper 1 also provides a useful orientation for students interested in medical ecology, nutritional anthropology, anthropologies of disease as well as other anthropology and humanities subjects. It is open to all members of SAME and the University of Oxford.

Learning Outcomes

  • To learn key themes, theories and debates in medical anthropology  
  • To learn to appreciate different lineages of critical thinking


  • Professor Elisabeth Hsu, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology
  • Dr Paola Esposito, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology
  • Dr Elo Luik, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology
  • Dr Theresia Hofer, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology
  • Dr Javier Lezaun, Institute for Science, Innovation and Society
  • Dr Neil Armstrong, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology

Lecture times

Tuesdays 10am – 11am

Tuesdays 2pm - 3pm

Recommended readings

  • Nichter M. & Lock M. (eds) (2002) New Horizons in Medical Anthropology. London: Routledge.
  • Mol A. (2002) The Body Multiple. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
  • Hsu, E. and C. Potter (2015) Medical Anthropology in Europe: Shaping the Field. London: Routledge.
  • Manderson, L., Cartwright, E., Hardon, A. (eds) (2016) The Routledge Handbook of Medical Anthropology. London: Routledge.  

Lecture topics

Week 1

  • 10am: Illness, disease, sickness - the beginnings, and beyond (EH)
  • 2pm: Organ transplants, the gift of life and the redefinition of death (EH) 

 Week 2

  • 10am: Medical pluralism revisited (EH)
  • 2pm: Technologies, markets and relationships in assisted reproduction (EL)   

Week 3

  • 10am: Narrative theory and the cultural construction of truth (EH)
  • 2pm: Ontologies of treatment (PE)         

Week 4 

  • 10am: Pain and the body as a project (EH)                         
  • 2pm: Biosociality and biological citizenship (PE) 

Week 5

  • 10am: Multiple efficacies (EH)
  • 2pm: Managing epidemics (EH and PE) 

Week 6

  • 10am: Colonialism and its legacy for contemporary medicine (EH)
  • 2pm: Neoliberalism and Mental Health (NA) 

Week 7

  • 10am: Medicalisation and the political economy of health (EH)  
  • 2pm:  Biopower and biopolitics (JL) 

Week 8

  • 10am: Nationalism and the invention of traditional medicines (EH)
  • 2pm: The globalization of Asian medicines (TH)

Office hours by appointment

Prof Elisabeth Hsu: Mondays 9.30-10.30am

Dr Paola Esposita: Fridays 11am-12pm

(16 hours, Michaelmas Term)

Course overview

This paper draws on biocultural anthropology to propose a broad and inclusive perspective for understanding the contexts in which diseases appear, manifest and evolve. By combining theories and evidence from a variety of sub-disciplines including social anthropology, political ecology, epidemiology and evolutionary medicine, the course aims to develop an analytical understanding of the complex ways in which biology and culture are intertwined, thereby shedding new light on public health policies and biomedical practices. 

Learning Outcomes

After completing this course, students should be able to: 

  • Discuss current issues in the anthropology of diseases
  • Evaluate the relationships between theories, models and evidence in the study of diseases
  • Develop a framework integrating social and biological approaches in examining the discourse and practice of contemporary western medicine 


  • Professor Stanley Ulijaszek (SU), School of Anthropology & Museum Ethnography
  • Dr Paula Sheppard (PS), School of Anthropology & Museum Ethnography
  • Dr Caroline Potter (CP), Nuffield Department of Population Health
  • Professor Stephen Oppenheimer (SO)
  • Dr Karin Eli (KE), School of Anthropology & Museum Ethnography
  • Dr Aurora Perez-Cornago (APC), Cancer Epidemiology Unit

Recommended readings 

  • McElroy A. & Townsend, P.K. (2009). Medical Anthropology in Ecological Perspective. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. 5th edition.
  • Nesse, R., and G. Williams (1996) Why we get sick: The new science of Darwinian Medicine. Vintage: New York
  • Stearns, S.C. & Medzhitov, R. (2015). A Primer for Evolutionary Medicine. Palgrave.
  • Alvergne, A., Jenkinson, C', Faurie, C. (2016). Evolutionary Thinking in Medicine: From Research to Policy and Practice. Springer.
  • Banwell, C., Ulijaszek, S., Dixon, J. (2013). When Culture Impacts Health. London: Academic Press.
  • McMichael, T. (2001). Human Frontiers, Environments and Disease. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Paper 2.1 Ecology of Disease

Lecture times 

  • Fridays 10am - 11am

Lecture topics

1. Ecology of Disease (SU)
2. Wellbeing, health, inequality and insecurity (SU)
3. Iron deficiency and Malaria (SO)
4. Malaria Epidemiology (CP) 
5. Covid-19 (SU)
6. Obesity (SU)
7. Anorexia (KE)
8. Cancer (APC)

Paper 2.2 Evolutionary medicine and public health

Lecture times 

  • Fridays 2pm - 3pm

Lecture topics

1. Introduction to Evolutionary Medicine
2. Defence mechanisms
3. The evolutionary epidemiology of infectious disease
4. Life History Theory and health
5. An evolutionary approach to human reproduction
6. Evolutionary perspectives on mental health
7. Western diseases
8. An evolutionary understanding of cancer

(8 hours, Hilary Term)


  • Professor Elisabeth Hsu, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology
  • Dr Katherine Morris, Mansfield College

Lecture times

Hilary Term, Tuesdays 10am

Recommended course readings

Merleau-Ponty M. [1945] 1962: Phenomenology of Perception, tr. By Colin Smith. OR: 2012: tr.. by Donald A. Landes. London: Routledge.

Morris, K. 2012:. Starting with Merleau-Ponty. London: Continuum.

Jackson M. 1996: Things as They Are: New Directions in Phenomenology. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. (introduction)  

Ingold T. 2000: Perception of the Environment: Essays in Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill. London: Routledge.

Csordas, T.J. 1994: The Sacred Self: a Cultural Phenomenology of Charismatic Healing. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Csordas TJ 1994: Embodiment and Experience. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Csordas T. J. 2002: Body/Meaning/Healing. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Lock M & J Farquhar 2007: Beyond the Body Proper: Reading in the Anthropology of Material Life. Durham: Duke University Press.

Lecture topics

Week 1. Anthropological Approaches to the Body: The Three Bodies
Week 2. Cartesian Mind-Body Dualism and Other Dualisms
Week 3. The Phenomenology of the Body and Embodiment
Week 4. Habit, Habitus and Practice: Merleau-Ponty, Mauss and Bourdieu
Week 5. The Problem of the Other and Mental Health
Week 6. The Body Ecologic: Asian Medical Bodies in Perspective
Week 7. Sex and Gender
Week 8. Normative Body Images: Anorexia, Cosmetic Surgery

(8 hours, Hilary Term)

Course overview

This half paper draws on what is known about human diet and nutrition from comparative and evolutionary perspectives to consider some key issues in human provisioning and their implications for public health. Perspectives from a number of sub-disciplines including physical and biological anthropology, geography, political ecology, epidemiology, psychology, genetics and developmental biology are used to develop an analytical understanding of the complex ways in which food, nutrition and health are entangled.

After completing this course, students should be able to:
  • Discuss current issues in nutritional anthropology
  • Evaluate the relationships between theories and practice in the study of nutritional health
  • Develop a framework integrating different approaches to food and health in global perspective


  • Professor Stanley Ulijaszek, School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography

Recommended readings

Ulijaszek, S.J., Mann, N. and Elton, S. (2012) Evolving Human Nutrition. Implications for Public Health. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Moffat, T and Prowse, T. 2010. Human Diet and Nutrition in Biocultural Perspective: Past Meets Present. Oxford: Berghahn.

Ulijaszek, S.J. 2017. Models of Obesity. Cambridge University Press

Lecture times

Fridays at 12pm.

Lecture topics

1. Introduction and Evolving human nutrition
2. Paleo and hunter-gatherer diet
3. Taste and ecological sensing
4. Undernutrition and infection
5. Protein
6. Food security and undernutrition
7. Growth, development and plasticity
8. Food, eating and obesity

This year's Medical Anthropology Option paper is ‘Sensory Experience in Therapeutics’, which is held in Hilary Term. 

Option course: Sensory Experience in Therapeutics

(8 hours, Hilary Term, place and time tbc)


Course overview

This option course discusses ritual healing from a critical medical anthropological perspective. Its focus is on bodily skills of ritual practice that can effect a substantial as well as perceived sensory transformation in patients, and their entourage. Ethnographic evidence will be presented to suggest that those techniques are conducive to recovery from sickness. The option is open to all students at SAME, and those PGT students enrolled in it receive two tutorials in groups of two or three students. Furthermore, there are four 90 minutes sessions on a film with subsequent discussion on themes related to the course materials.



Professor Elisabeth Hsu, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, SAME

Dr Paula Esposito, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, SAME


Lecture times

Hilary Term, place and time tbc


Recommended readings

Laderman, C. & Roseman M. eds. (1996). The Performance of Healing. London: Routledge.


Readings in Sensorial Anthropology

Howes, D. ed. 1991. The Varieties of Sensory Experience. University of Toronto Press.

Howes, D. 2003. Sensual Relations. Engaging the Senses in Culture and Social Theory. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Howes, D. ed. 2004. Empire of the Senses: The Sensual Culture Reader. Oxford: Berg. 

Howes, D., and Classen C., 2014. Ways of Sensing: Understanding the Senses in Society. London: Routledge.


Readings in Sensory Anthropology

Jackson, M. (1996). Things as They Are: New Directions in Phenomenology. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. [Introduction]

Ingold, T. (2000). Perception of the Environment: Essays in Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill. London: Routledge.

Hsu, E. ed. (2008). The Senses and the Social. Special Issue. Ethnos 73 (4).


Lecture topics

1. Sensory Experience and Ritual Transformation (EH)
2. Play, Performance and Rhythm (PE)
3. Pain that Awakens (EH)
4. Immersion in Light, and the Clinical Gaze (PE)
5. Immersion in Sound: Percussion, Voice, Melody, Music (PE)
6. Transformative Tactility: Touch, Massage, Manipuulation and Synæsthesia (EH)
7. Odours and Transformation: the Rotting, the Dead and the Dreamt (PE)
8. Taste and Distinction; the Substances of Memory, Ecology and Place


Office Hours in Hilary 2022

Professor Elisabeth Hsu: Mondays 9.30-10.30am and by prior arrangement

Dr Paula Esposito: Fridays 11am and by prior arrangement

Students are also welcome to audit this year's Undergraduate option in Medical Anthropology.

MSc students should also attend lectures in:
Theory and Approaches in Social Anthropology’ (Michaelmas Term, Tuesdays at 12pm) and
‘Fieldwork: theory and methods’ (Hilary Term, Fridays at 10am).

Students can select any option of available options in Hilary Term. 

The dissertation is an independent piece of work written after the June examinations. Dissertation classes are held at the beginning of Trinity Term (2 hours per week, weeks 1-4), during which they present ideas for their dissertation project to colleagues and staff and a maximum of two individual supervisions. 

At all stages of their studies students are expected to contribute to the School’s rich seminar and discussion culture. This includes attendance at established seminar series, such as the Departmental Seminar series, as well as participation in informal discussion groups and student-led seminars. Researchers within these groups convene ongoing seminars, which we encourage our students to attend in line with their particular interests. We welcome collaboration with Post-doctoral Researchers working in any field of medical anthropology, and four research clusters have emerged:

MSc students must be in residence in Oxford during full term, the dates for which are listed on the University's main website.

MPhil in Medical Anthropology

The two-year MPhil course offers a coordinated training in both biological and social anthropological approaches to health and illness, with special emphasis on methods. It provides the necessary basis for future anthropological research and an excellent cross-cultural grounding for those aiming to pursue a career in clinical medicine, international health or other health-related fields. The MPhil is similar in topical scope and breadth to the MSc, but it allows for much deeper engagement with the theory and practice of anthropological research.

During the first year MPhil students follow the same course of instruction as MSc students through the June examinations. These serve as qualifying (rather than final) exams for MPhil students which, if passed at satisfactory level, enable them to progress to the second year.

MPhil students use the long summer vacation to acquire a firm grounding in the medical anthropological literature, and based on this background reading develop their dissertation outline. Fieldwork is not a necessary component of the MPhil degree, although some students who plan to progress to doctoral work may make a preliminary visit to a potential future field site.

The second-year coursework has three components: critical reading classes, and attendance of two research methods training modules. Together these components comprise one examined Paper, on “Methods of Anthropological and Social Research”, which is assessed by a dossier of written work completed over the course of the year (rather than by a final written examination).

MPhil students are expected to actively participate in the School’s rich seminar culture, and in particular to attend at least two of the five research seminar series in medical anthropology.

The MPhil is a research-preparation degree, with the 30,000 word dissertation (submitted in May) as the main course output. MPhil students receive individual tuition on their dissertation writing with their supervisor throughout the second year. They are also required to attend MPhil classes in Hilary Term, during which MPhil dissertation projects from across the School of Anthropology are presented and discussed among students and faculty. 

MPhil students must be in residence in Oxford during full term, the dates for which are listed on the University's main website.


DPhil in Anthropology

The DPhil in Anthropology is offered by the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography.

Applicants for the MSc or MPhil who know that they intend to pursue a DPhil (PhD) in the School of Anthropology & Museum Ethnography, via a MSc + DPhil (1+3-year) route or MPhil + DPhil (2+2-year) route, are encouraged to indicate and elaborate this in their Statement of Purpose/Personal Statement, as this will allow them to be considered for funding awards at the time of application. For this purpose their personal statement may be up to four pages in length and should include a proposal outlining their intended Doctoral research.

Applicants should be reassured that if they are not at this stage clear about whether they wish to pursue DPhil research in the future this will not affect their likelihood of securing a place on an MSc or MPhil now, or of securing DPhil funding at a later date. Anybody who subsequently applies to continue to study for a DPhil (whether after MSc or MPhil) will be considered again for nomination to the award competitions at that time.

These Master's courses provide graduates from diverse disciplinary backgrounds with the necessary basis to go on to further research and teaching in anthropology, but many graduates also decide to pursue healthcare-related careers. 

Students may progress from either the MSc or the MPhil degree in Medical Anthropology to the DPhil in Anthropology within the School. The DPhil degree involves long-term fieldwork (typically a minimum of one year) and culminates in the 80,000 word thesis, which may have a medical anthropology focus.