Photo overlooking the totem pole in the Pitt Rivers Museum


During the Final Honour School, students delve more deeply into the subject areas which have been introduced to them in the first year. They will also decide on which three options they would like to take from the following list of 30 subjects. One option is studied in the second year, two are studied in the third year.

Medical Anthropology: Sensory Experience, the Sentient Body and Therapeutics

On this course we will develop Social Anthropological theories and methods with a topical focus on Medical Anthropology. We approach ‘ritual healing’ from the perspective of the senses: touch, taste, vision, hearing and smell are all examined, as well as lesser known senses such as kinaesthetics and pain, and how these senses are inter-twined through synaesthesia. Students will draw on and develop their ideas about the anthropology of the body, embodiment, habitus and biopolitics, and will become familiar with ethnographic topics as diverse as bloodletting and body painting, the body politic and the body ecologic, cannibalism and capoeira, obesity and olfaction, spirit possession and placebo, religion and rhetoric.

The course will discuss ‘ritual healing’ as well as ‘daily’ sensory education from a critical medical anthropological perspective. Students will be encouraged to go beyond the analysis of healing rituals in terms of symbols, narrative and metaphor. Too often, ethnographers have glossed over the intimate details of rituals, creating a ritual ‘black box’ that neglects to explore what is actually done to induce a therapeutic effect. In contrast, we will explore how the sensory experiences of the body are sculpted, heightened and attuned to induce bodily-felt transformations conducive to health and healing for patients within their entourage (‘social’, ‘natural’ or ‘built’). By foregrounding the senses, we attend to sentient, knowing bodies and examine the techniques and materials by which healthful bodily predispositions are reinforced, renewed and newly fabricated through an engagement with their social and natural environments. 

Last update on 09/12/16 by Robyn Mason.

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