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ANTH323 Anthropology of Health

A global and cross-cultural exploration of the concepts of health, healing and illness. Exploration of the commodification, medicalisation, moralities and aesthetics of embodied health via a research essay.

This paper provides an overview of the most rapidly expanding subdiscipline in anthropology - the field of medical anthropology. During the semester we will develop ideas about the nature of health, suffering (both individual and structural), the anthropological meaning behind terms such as healing and curing, and the variety of ways in which people experience embodied selfhood from a diverse array of cultural perspectives.

We will also study the complex varieties of health care workers and carers in any local situation and the ideological relationships between health and notions of commerce, aesthetics, morality and identity. In doing so we will attempt to develop a cross-cultural meaning of the complex and taken for granted concept of health.

To successfully achieve this goal, we must also critically examine the dominant local model of health in New Zealand, which is represented by a local and culturally specific version of cosmopolitan (or Western bio-) medicine. The approach through which we will conduct this task is known as critical interpretive medical anthropology and is based on a political economy approach to the study of health and illness complemented with insights from phenomenological anthropology.

This paper is taught in yearly rotation with ANTH 322.

Paper title Anthropology of Health
Paper code ANTH323
Subject Anthropology
EFTS 0.15
Points 18 points
Teaching period Semester 1 (On campus)
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $955.05
International Tuition Fees Tuition Fees for international students are elsewhere on this website.

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18 200-level ANTH points or 108 points
ANTH 223
Schedule C
Arts and Music
May not be credited together with ANTH310 passed in 2001 or 2002.
This paper is designed for students with and without strong backgrounds in Anthropology.

Professor Ruth Fitzgerald

Teaching staff

Professor Ruth Fitzgerald

Paper Structure

Internal assessment: The major assignment is either a reflective essay drawing in part on a book review (for non-Anthropology majors) or a practical research essay assignment involving publicly accessible fieldwork sources (for Anthropology majors). Additional assessment is a poster presentation of your essay findings using a friendly group conference poster presentation format in the last week of class. Students will also be offered one open book MCQ every week (via blackboard quiz that remains open all semester) on the key point of the lecture in order to enhance learning.

External assessment: An end of semester exam which is a combination of multiple-choice and paragraph size short answer questions timetabled by the examination office, but delivered via blackboard.

The paper involves active learning, and students are requested to read their required weekly readings before attending class. Students are invited to join in the collaborative notes project in which we work co-operatively to each provide one high quality reading summary of required reading. This is stored on "teams" and made available to all members of the class to assist us with managing our reading worklaods by sharing notes co-operatively.

Teaching Arrangements

One 2-hour lecture per week and a one hour-long tutorial per week


Required reading is from contemporary peer reviewed journal articles and book chapters available electronically through the library using course reserve.

Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Global perspective, Interdisciplinary perspective, Lifelong learning, Scholarship, Communication, Critical thinking, Cultural understanding, Ethics, Research, Self-motivation, Teamwork.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes

Students who successfully complete this paper will

  • Be able to make a reasoned judgement about the complex and culturally specific meanings of health within their chosen study site and support this interpretation with evidence
  • Demonstrate high-level written, visual and verbal communication skills

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Semester 1

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system


Stream Days Times Weeks
A1 Friday 10:00-11:50 9-13, 16-22


Stream Days Times Weeks
Attend one stream from
A1 Friday 16:00-16:50 9-13, 16-21
A2 Friday 13:00-13:50 9-13, 16-21
A3 Friday 14:00-14:50 9-13, 16-21