Kuva: Pixabay

What is it that makes people sick? How can we as humans explain diseases and epidemics? Are clinical explanations of the circulation of viruses and bacteria all there is to understand diseases and epidemics? What about the social basis of health and illness?

This course, which will be in English, will introduce students to central concepts and methods of medical anthropology. The course draws on some classical and contemporary works, including historical accounts, ethnographic research, health journals, and media reports and films/short plays as we consider particular local cultures and medical systems as well as the processes of knowledge and practice.

Kirjaudu sisään nähdäksesi Moodlen kurssiavaimen.

Muiden yliopistojen opiskelijoiden ilmoittautuminen opintoihin

Ilmoittaudu täyttämällä ilmoittautumislomake (Ilmoittaudu-painike ja "ilman tunnusta" -ilmoittautuminen), täytä tieto omasta yliopistostasi sekä opiskelijanumerosi.

Saat onnistuneesta ilmoittautumisesta hetken kuluttua automaattiviestin, jossa on mm. linkki opintojaksosi tietoihin.
Saat ilmoittautumista seuraavana päivänä ohjeen Helsingin yliopiston käyttäjätunnuksen aktivointiin.

Voit suorittaa jakson ilman Helsingin yliopiston käyttäjätunnusta, jolloin tunnusta ei tarvitse aktivoida. Voit käyttää oman yliopistosi tunnusta Moodle-kirjautumiseen.

Saat Moodle-linkin ja kurssiavaimen ennen jakson alkua.

Lue myös: Oletko toisen korkeakoulun opiskelija? Täältä löydät opintoihisi liittyvää käytännön tietoa

Ilmoittautuminen ja opintomaksu

0 euros.

The course is exceptionally free for all participants. Read more: Distance learning around the country. Welcome!

This excludes a possible fee for study materials.

Registration begins 45 days before the beginning of the course. The exact registration time is shown by clicking the Register button.

  • The online registration is available for those who have Finnish identity number and an online bankig ID.
  • If you don't have Finnish identity number and / or an online banking ID, you should register at the Admission Services of University of Helsinki.
  • If don't have Finnish identity number and/or an online ID and you live outside Finland / cannot visit University of Helsinki, it is unfortunately impossible for you to register to the course.
  • International students at the University of Helsinki can enrol on the course with their University of Helsinki username.

More information:

University of Helsinki username

As an Open University student you'll get the University of Helsinki username to access the university's IT systems. The username should be activated after the registration online or at the university.

Online activating requires strong electronic identification. If it is not possible, you should visit the Helsinki University ID-point.

More information:

The ECSTS credits

The ECTS credits are possible to people who have a Finnish identity number.

More information:

More information on studying at the Open University:


If you are interested in Medical Anthropology then the course will interest you.

No prior knowledge of subject is required.

By the end of the course, successful students will be able to describe the principal research orientations and concepts in medical anthropology and use these appropriately in formulating the goals and methods of their own research.

The main aim of this course is to provide students with an overview of medical anthropology and social basis of health, with a particular focus on healing systems in non-Western societies, particularly in Africa, although other parts of the world are also covered.

A second aim of the course is to provide students with an understanding of recent changes in the social, political, economic and historical relations between people, illness and healing, as well as regimes of disease practices, both in material and epistemological terms.

A third aim is to explore the ways in which the social and cultural relation between people and health both varies across societies and have changed across time.

Learning Outcomes:

On completion of this unit successful students will be able to:

  • Understand contemporary key approaches towards researching health and healing, especially in non-Western societies.
  • Compare the healing systems of a society and different medical systems in both Western and non-Western societies and understand the dynamics of each.
  • Identify the relationship between illness and healing and other issues such as kinship, belief systems, economic conditions, and the politics of medicine.
  • Understand global health practices and medical resources for certain groups, and how these relate to migration, globalisation and spread of disease across borders.
  • Compare different sectors of a medical system and regimes of disease practices using ethnographic examples and be able to develop an argument based on the ethnography.

This course, which will be in English, will introduce students to central concepts and methods of medical anthropology. Drawing on a number of classical and contemporary works, we will consider particular local cultures and medical systems as well as the processes of knowledge and practice. We will analyse the social and political economic shaping of illness and suffering and discuss healing options, including ethno-medicine and biomedicine as powerful institutions and as sources of authority and control.

The themes to be discussed include the history of anthropology and revelations of medical ideas, local theories of disease/illness causation and healing, medicine and the problem of belief (religion), cosmology and health, body and bodily processes, economic and political aspects of medicine, new medical technologies, and modernity, globalisation and the distribution of health risks.

Premilinary reading:

The key readings for each week, which will be provided in a detailed course outline, are required reading. These and other readings will be made available through the course Moodle pages:

1) Singer, M. & A. Baer (2007). Why have a Medical Anthropology? In Introducing Medical
Anthropology: A Discipline in Action. Lanham, UK: Alta Mira Press, pp. 1-34.

2) Kleinman, A. & P. Benson (2006). Anthropology in the Clinic: The Problem of Cultural Competency
and How to Fix It. PLoS Medicine Volume 3 (10) e294 www.plosmedicine.org. pp. 1673-1676.

3) Singer, M. & A. Baer (2007). Plural Medical systems. In Introducing Medical Anthropology: A
Discipline in Action. Lanham, UK: Alta Mira Press, pp 121-150

4) Kleinman, A. (2008). Catastrophe and care-giving. Lancet 373 (9606): 22-23

5) Jones et al. (2008). Global trends in emerging infectious diseases. Nature 451.

6) Lock, M. & V-K Nguyen (2010). Biomedical Technologies in Practice. In Lock, M. & V-K Nguyen .An
Anthropology of Biomedicine. Oxford: Wiley & Blackwell, pp. 17-31.

7) Jaye, C. (2004). Talking around embodiment: the views of GPs following participation in medical anthropology courses. Journal of Medical Ethics; Medical Humanities 30: 41–48. doi: 10.1136/jmh.2003.000146


Assessment activity

Length required

Percentage of final mark

Final essay

3000 words


Online course that includes lecture recordings + final essay (3000 words) + students independent studying. There will be changes in content, completion, working methods and realisation.

(The old content: There will be two sessions a week held during one period in this course, and a total of 14 sessions. Each will consist of a lecture followed by a seminar-style session, during which students will work in groups to address the issues learned each week, carry out tasks and make presentations to their groups. There will be a Moodle page where students will submit work every week. The feedback on this work will help to inform students in the preparation of an assessed essay for the course.)

The essay must be returned to Moodle on 25 September 2020 at the latest.

Online learning environment Moodle will be used on the course. The course Moodle will open on Tuesday 4th of August 2020.

How to get the Moodle-link and course key?
Students of University of Helsinki and Open University of Helsinki: Next day after registration: log into this study programme with your University of Helsinki username. You will receive more information on the username after registration.

Suoritukset kirjataan Helsingin yliopiston opintohallintojärjestelmään. Näet suoritustiedot kirjautumalla pankkitunnuksilla Oma Opintopolku palveluun. Opiskelijat huolehtivat itse avoimessa yliopisto-opetuksessa suorittamiensa opintojen hyväksiluvusta omissa yliopistoissaan

The course is part of optional studies in Master´s programme in Society and Change and it can also be included in Society and Change -study modules (25 cr or 35 credits).