Medical Anthropology Specialization

Muthi, South Africa

Medical anthropology is one of the most rapidly expanding interest areas within the broader field of anthropology. Situated at the margins of the clinical and social sciences, medical anthropology seeks to understand the social and cultural context of health and illness by examining conceptions of self and body, narratives of affliction, and practices of treatment.

The Department of Anthropology offers the degrees of Bachelor of Arts, Master of Arts, and Doctor of Philosophy with a concentration in medical anthropology. Undergraduates can also complete an Interdisciplinary Certificate in Social Science and Health, intended to supplement the disciplinary major of students who wish to pursue careers in the field of health and health care by enhancing the breadth, quality, and coherence of their education through taking health-related courses in a variety of different academic disciplines.

Our Curriculum

Combining theoretical innovation with empirical methodologies, the medical anthropology curriculum at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa covers three themes:

Core Theory and Praxis in Medical Anthropology: Focusing on the unique contributions that medical anthropology has made to the social sciences, courses in this area instill an understanding of the theoretical debates that have shaped the specialization as well as the methodological techniques used in both academic and applied projects. Courses include: Medical Anthropology (ANTH 425) and Applied Anthropology (ANTH 481).

Social Contexts of Health: Spotlighting the ways in which health and illness structure, and are structured by, our everyday lives and interactions with one another, we examine topics such as bodies, emotions, food, and race to explore the links between our physical and social worlds. Courses include: Anthropology of the Body (ANTH 428), Culture, Identity, and Emotion (ANTH 424), Food, Health and Society (ANTH 427), and Race and Human Variation (ANTH 375).

Anthropology of the Biosciences: Demonstrating that Western (or allopathic) medicine is a product of specific cultural assumptions, we explore the social, economic, political, and moral messages that are embedded in biomedical etiologies, narratives, technologies, treatments, and global health interventions. Courses include: Anthropology of Global Health and Development (ANTH 463/663), Biomedicine and Culture (ANTH 467/667), and Science, Sex, and Reproduction (ANTH 465).

Maternity Hospital, Kathmandu

A description off all of the courses offered by the Department of Anthropology and a Five Year Course Schedule can be found here. Graduate students are encouraged to take two courses outside the Department, in Public Health, Medicine, Botany, Geography, Psychology, Political Science, Sociology, Women’s Studies or other academic departments whose curricular foci transect the student’s training in medical anthropology.

Current Graduate Students

Shanna Clinton has a background in community mental health and is interested in psychological and psychiatric anthropology, particularly emotion discourse, family therapy, and psychosis.  She is currently conducting dissertation research on the traditional Hawaiian practice of ho‘oponopono (glossed as family therapy) in the context of American healthcare and social service bureaucracies.  (PhD candidate)

Michelle Daigle's research examines how medicine, law and mass media intersect to inform the social construction of Minamata disease (methyl mercury poisoning due to industrial pollution), and affect the identity of victims and people living in the affected areas in Japan. (PhD Candidate)

Patricia Fifita’s background and interests include ethnomedicine, traditional ecological knowledge, medical pluralism, colonialism, health and modernity in the Pacific and the Pacific diaspora. Her current research examines cancer illness experience among Tongans and the intersection of political economy, health and healing. (PhD candidate)

Asami Nago is studying malaria among the Karen ethnic minority people along the Thai-Myanmar border area, Her interests include citizenship, healthcare access, political economy, local perceptions of the illness, biopower, and the critical assessment of clinical community-based studies. (PhD candidate)

Pamela Runestad is researching the ways in which HIV and AIDS are discussed and represented in Japan, as well as attitudes toward and rationale for treatment selection by people living with HIV/AIDS. (PhD candidate)

Ashley Vaughan explores the intersections of Western/Christian and Melanesian/traditional beliefs as they unfold in the medical discourses and practices of the people of Vanuatu. (PhD candidate)

Core Medical Anthropology Faculty

Aboriginal dietary guide, Central Australia

Jan Brunson, (PhD Brown University 2008: Assistant Professor)
Interests: Medical anthropology, fertility and reproduction, maternal health, new medical technologies, structural and interpersonal violence, gender, family; Nepal

Eirik Saethre, (PhD Australian National University 2004: Assistant Professor)
Interests: Medical anthropology, indigenous health, HIV/AIDS, biomedical interventions; Aboriginal Australia, South Africa

Related Faculty

Christopher J. Bae (PhD Rutgers University 2005; Assistant Professor)

Interests: Biological anthropology, paleoanthropology, vertebrate taphonomy, Out of Africa I, modern human origins; China, Korea, Japan

C. Fred Blake (PhD University of Illinois 1975; Associate Professor)
Interests: Critical theory, ethnomedicine, symbolic systems, China, U.S.

Daniel E. Brown (PhD Cornell 1978; Professor)
Interests: Biological anthropology, biomedical ecology, stress and adaptation, culture change, Hawaii, Pacific Islands

Rebecca Cann (PhD University of California-Berkeley 1982; Professor)
Biological anthropology, anthropological genetics, human dispersal and divergence, mDNA, Pacific Islands, Asia, Native North America

Gregory Maskarinec (PhD University of Hawaii 1990; Affiliate Graduate Faculty)
Interests: Cultural anthropology, medical anthropology, ethnology, discourse practices, oral texts, religion, Himalayas, South and Central Asia

Michael Pietrusewsky (PhD University of Toronto 1969; Professor)
Interests: Biological anthropology, forensic anthropology, skeletal biology, paleopathology, biodistance studies, Hawaii, Pacific Islands, Southeast and East Asia, Australia

Geoffrey White (PhD University of California-San Diego 1978; Professor)

Interests: Cultural anthropology, culture and politics, identity, cognition and language, history, Oceania, USA