Medical Anthropology

Medical Anthropology

The Joint UCB/UCSF Ph.D. in Medical Anthropology is one of the pioneering programs in the discipline both nationally and globally. The program provides disciplinary leadership and an outstanding and comprehensive training leading to the Ph.D. degree. No other program offers the Joint Program's combination of excellence in critical medical anthropology; psychiatric and psychological anthropology; gender and queer theory; disability studies; health, citizenship, immigration and the global; violence in wartime and peacetime as a medical topic; studies of science, technology and modernity; intersections of medicine and social theory; and innovative ethnographic scholarship.

The core faculty on the Berkeley side of the Joint Program form an organized research group called Critical Studies in Medicine, Science, and the Body. This group links medical anthropology, science and technology studies, postcolonial anthropology, disability studies, critical development and humanitarianism studies, psychological and psychoanalytic anthropology, and linguistic anthropology. There are eight faculty in the group: Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Chair of the doctoral degree program in Medical Anthropology; Paul Rabinow, Director of the Project on Genomics and Society; Lawrence Cohen, Co-director of Medical Anthropology; Stefania Pandolfo, Graduate Advisor of Medical Anthropology; Charles L. Briggs, Co-chair of Berkeley Center for Social Medicine, Equity Officer of Medical Anthropology, and Program Director of Folklore; Cori Hayden, Chair of Anthropology; Seth Holmes, Co-chair of Berkeley Center for Social Medicine and Co-director of MD/PhD Track in Medical Anthropology (UCB and UCSF); and Karen Nakamura, Director of Disability Studies Lab.

Together with medical anthropology colleagues at UCSF, sociocultural colleagues at Berkeley and graduate students and postdoctoral scholars in the Joint UCB-UCSF Medical Anthropology Program and in the Department of Anthropology, these scholars have created both the most diverse and the most contemporary program in the field.  Alumni from this program have moved on to leading positions across the country and the world and continue to move the field in new directions.

The expansion of traditional medical anthropology at Berkeley into Critical Studies in Medicine, Science, and the Body reflects several disciplinary breakthroughs associated with our faculty. Though variants of "medical anthropology" are almost as old as the parent discipline of anthropology, the field of Medical Anthropology emerged in post-war North America as an effort to link international public health, ethnomedicine, and allied social science in the service of the anthropology of development. The field shared both the promise and the limits of modernization theory more generally. Both the critical Marxist and symbolic/iphenomenological/interpretive challenges of the 1970s and 1980s thickened debate, along with closer links to historical analyses of the scholarly medical traditions and the development of qualitative methodologies concurrent with the expansion of NIH, NIMH, and other governmental programs of research support.

Despite the rapid growth of the field at this time, most research remained auxiliary to the categorical if not the political and economic imperatives of biomedicine. With the arrival of Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Berkeley became a leader in defining "critically interpretive medical anthropology." Critical medical anthropology refused the theory/applied divide that characterized so many departments and programs, arguing the impossibility of separating "theoretical" debate in cultural anthropology and the human sciences on the one hand and more engaged commitment to the health and survival of communities and groups, on the other. Scheper-Hughes's articulation of a critical anthropology of hunger as well as the violence continuum in times of war and of peace offer powerful examples of the change in the field she was instrumental in creating.

The rise of this movement at Berkeley led to a period in the late 1980s and early 1990s with two dominant programs in graduate training, critical medical anthropology in the Joint Program at Berkeley and UCSF and interpretive medical anthropology at Harvard. Lawrence Cohen came from Harvard in 1992 to join Scheper-Hughes. Their teaching and joint research produced a critical and ongoing conversation bringing together the leading formations in the field. Cohen has worked to link debates between critical, interpretive, and biocultural medical anthropologies to broader theoretical questions of materialization that have emerged in feminist and queer scholarship.  Cohen has worked at this intersection on diverse topics, including aging, organ transplant and donation, gender and bodies.

The rapid growth of science studies and the increasing centrality of both science and the body to contemporary debate in the academy posed new challenges to medical anthropology. Paul Rabinow has studied the new genomics intensively, leading to multiple books and to the development of what he has termed an anthropology of reason. Against too-easy criticism of scientific and medical practice that did not question what Michel Foucault called the "speaker's benefit" of the critic, Rabinow offered a method and a form of analysis that offered a way out of the endless battles of the "Culture Wars." Berkeley anthropology emerged as the most powerful alternative to the dominant approaches to the sociology of science and science studies. From the mid-1990s and on, these two streams of medical anthropology and the anthropology of reason have been in closer and sharper interaction. Far from pushing students towards either pole, the debate constituted a space for encouraging students to link critical, interpretive, and genealogic analysis.

In a world of linking new genomics, bioinformatics, and pharmacotherapy to corporate medicine and public-private hybrid structures internationally, "bioethics" has become ever more ubiquitous and empty a critical practice. The question of ethics and more generally of human and non-human futures links the current work of Cohen, Rabinow, Scheper-Hughes, and Hayden. Cori Hayden (former Director and current core faculty member of the Center for Science, Technology, Medicine and Society), along with colleagues at Berkeley and UCSF, has continued to develop new approaches to the social studies of science, including bioethics.  Her work on global and Latin American pharmaceutical politics, intellectual property, and the ethics of clinical trails has led to new understandings of privatization and “public-ization”, the “popular” and populism, and relationships between distinction and copying.

To the question of ethics and to the related investigation of trauma, loss, and healing, Stefania Pandolfo brings a rigorous anthropological conversation incorporating contemporary philosophy, psychology, psychoanalysis and her field research in a Moroccan psychiatric hospital.  Pandolfo's work provides a bridge allowing for analysis linking medical anthropology and recent social theories of language, melancholy and the body. Pandolfo has offered extensive training to graduate students in the anthropology of psychology, psychiatry, and medicine, linking a reexamination of existential psychiatry and a close engagement with the work of scholars from Benjamin and Blanchot to Freud, Lacan, and Binswanger to both Mahgrebi and European clinical and theoretical work. 

The strong center of gravity in psychological and psychiatric anthropology is expanded by the work of Scheper-Hughes on emotions and critical psychiatry as well as of Karen Nakamura on mental illness and related social movements.  Nakamura’s work has served as a nexus for gender and queer theory, psychological anthropology, and disability studies at Berkeley.  Along with others in the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society’s Disability Studies Cluster, she has helped build one of the world’s most active, engaged and diverse networks for disabilities studies. 

By tracing genealogies of the unexamined imbrication of theories of language, knowledge, performativity, and representation with research on biomedicine, public health, and traditional medicine, the Joint UCB-UCSF Medical Anthropology Program enables students to critically synthesize linguistic and critical medical anthropology in such a way as to transform both realms of anthropological inquiry. Charles L. Briggs has explored these connections through research on narrative and statistical representations of epidemic disease in Latin America; urban violence and its problematic representations; and a five-country study of how understandings of health, disease, citizenship, and the state are profoundly shaped by media coverage of health, all in collaboration with Clara Mantini-Briggs.

In addition, Charles L. Briggs and Clara Mantini-Briggs study challenges to neoliberal health policies and new understandings of health, citizenship, and the state emerging from revolutionary healthcare in Venezuela.  Also at the intersection of health and citizenship, Seth Holmes studies labor, health, and health care in the context of transnational im/migration and food systems.  Against this background, he has explored the ways in which perceptions of race, class and citizenship play into (and, at times, challenge and resist) the naturalization and normalization of social and health inequalities. In addition, Holmes studies the ways in which health professionals come to understand and respond to social difference and the ways race and racialization function differently in the lives of indigenous Mexican immigrant youth depending on spatial and social context.

Other Berkeley anthropology faculty bring important resources to graduate student training in the critical analysis of medicine, science, and psychiatry. Laura Nader was instrumental in helping to define the field and remains a leading scholar of medicine and the state. Stanley Brandes has studied many topics of relevance to the field, including alcohol and culture and questions of death and the body.  Aihwa Ong helped define the field of global anthropology and continues to work on biotechnology in various sites in North America, Southeast Asia and China.  Marianne Ferme has analyzed and written on global health and development, including epidemics, outbreaks and their responses. 

Our program is deepened by strong relationships with colleagues asking related questions across the Berkeley campus in units including History, English, Political Science, Sociology, City and Regional Planning, Comparative Literature, Gender and Women Studies, Critical Theory, Public Health and beyond.  In addition, our colleagues on the UCSF side of the Joint Program contribute cutting-edge anthropological work on global health, humanitarianism, critical studies of racialization, metrics in the health sciences, urban health, social studies of science and genetics, gender and health, aging and death, dental health, ethics of research and care, and medical history.  The breadth and depth of our core faculty at Berkeley, our links with colleagues across the Berkeley campus, and our close educational and research collaboration with faculty on the UCSF side of the Joint Program make this one of the most broad and dynamic contexts for medical anthropology in the country and in the world.