Graduate Study in Medical Anthropology and Global Health

Medical Anthropology and Global Health (MAGH) is a very broad, interdisciplinary new field of study, encompassing scholars from all branches of anthropology who examine a wide variety of specific topics relating to health, illness, and healing from sociocultural, biocultural, clinically applied, public health, and other related perspectives. Although this is not a separate program at the University of Washington, a rich array of resources are available to support those who wish to concentrate in medical anthropology and global health at the graduate level.

Medical Anthropology was not named as a specialization until the 1970’s. Anthropologists have long considered aspects of health and healing, medical practices, knowledge and beliefs as part of total culture of people they studied. The discipline gained impetus and support after WW II from applied work in the area of international public health – the exporting of Western medical beliefs and practices.

Today, Medical Anthropology is the fastest growing sub-field of Anthropology. It is an area of specialization in each of the discipline’s four core sub-fields (sociocultural, biocultural, linguistic and archeology). Medical anthropologists are dedicated to research, teaching and practice relating to health and all ways in which health is maintained, experienced, promoted and threatened in societies everywhere, including our own now and in the past.

Sociocultural and biocultural anthropologists employ different methods and draw upon different traditions of research, but share a common commitment to documenting, understanding and addressing how health and illness are produced in different communities, cultures and societies. From a wide range of approaches, medical anthropologists study how health problems, health inequalities and health systems are shaped by and reflect specific historical, geographic and political-economic contexts and change over time. Ethnographic, biomedical and epidemiological research alike work to generate empirically grounded, conceptually sophisticated, analytically powerful accounts of people’s words and deeds, their aspirations and struggles, their embodied suffering and their efforts to address it, by situating them within the increasingly interconnected global environment.

The best summary statement we can make is, “There is not just one medical anthropology; there are medical anthropologies”. We need to understand the diversity of theoretical perspectives within the field to help us understand why certain questions about health and illness have been asked and answered in certain ways. We can think about theoretical perspectives as both tools and fashions. On one hand, different perspectives are more useful than others for answering a certain question or addressing a certain problem. However, perspectives and approaches within the field have come in and gone out of favor, emerge at a particular point in social history, are challenged, built upon, improved. Decades of vigorous debate over the important issues at stake in how to define contexts for understanding leave anthropology particularly well positioned to make important contributions to the study of health problems that are both irreducibly global and stubbornly local.

Graduate Study

Graduate study in Medical Anthropology and Global Health harnesses expertise in diverse dimensions of health within the Department of Anthropology and across the University of Washington. This area of specialization is available to students completing the Ph.D. in either the Sociocultural Anthropology Program or the Biocultural Anthropology Program. While these programs differ in their core training, students are encouraged to take health-related course offerings in both sub-disciplines.

Anthropology also has strong ties with centers and departments across the University of Washington that are nationally and internationally recognized for top-tier research and training in health. These include:

Students in the MAGH area of specialization acquire skills in traditional theoretical foundations in anthropology and their relevant methods, as well as newly emerging cross-disciplinary approaches to population health studies that integrate local and global contexts.

Which graduate program is right for you?

While MAGH students share many interests in common, the core training in each program differs.

In the Biocultural Anthropology Program students receive training that integrates qualitative and quantitative approaches to understand the cultural and biological factors influencing human health and well-being. Students have the opportunity to study cutting-edge analytical techniques, such as network analysis and other modeling techniques for examining population variation in disease burden, as well as behavioral dimensions of the spread of infections such as HIV. Students may also train in the use of field-friendly biomarkers that allow for health assessment at the population, rather than the clinical, level. Additionally, many students take a critical approach to the impact of health policy and intervention, and often integrate life history theory or evolutionary medicine with public health perspectives, suggesting understandings of disease and intervention strategies that might otherwise seem counter-intuitive. This prepares students for careers in either applied or academic fields.

In the Sociocultural Anthropology Program medical anthropology emphasizes the diversity across space and time of health ideas, beliefs and values in creating health systems, systems of illness classification, health disparities and medical programs and procedures for curing illness and disease. The sociocultural approach to Medical Anthropology also examines the role of cultural differences in defining and dealing with health and illness and investigates the health related factors that link humanity cross-culturally through common needs. Broad sociocultural approaches include the study of belief and ethnomedical systems, the social construction of illness and social production of health and health disparities, healers in cross-cultural perspective, culture, illness and mental health, and critical medical anthropology.

Students specializing in Medical Anthropology and Global Health are admitted to one graduate program, but may take courses in both Biocultural and Sociocultural Anthropology.


Graduate Course Offerings in Medical Anthropology and Global Health:


  • ANTH 415 Anthropology of International Health
  • ANTH 452 Culture, Controversy and Change: The Case of Female Circumcision
  • ANTH 469 Special Studies in Anthropology (as relevant)
  • ANTH 472 Case Studies in Medical Anthropology and Global Health
  • ANTH 474 Social Difference and Medical Knowledge
  • ANTH 475 Perspectives in Medical Anthropology
  • ANTH 476 Culture, Medicine, and the Body
  • ANTH 477 Medicine in America: Conflicts and Contradictions
  • ANTH 479 Advanced Topics in Medical Anthropology
  • ANTH 562 Clinically Applied Anthropology
  • ANTH 574 Culture, Society, and Genomics
  • ANTH 575 Cultural Construction of Illness: Seminar in Medical Anthropology
  • ANTH 583 Africa Living with HIV/AIDS
  • BIO A 450 Biodemography Seminar
  • BIO A 455 Reproductive Ecology Laboratory Seminar
  • BIO A 465 Nutritional Anthropology
  • BIO A 469 Special Topics in Biocultural Anthropology (as relevant)
  • BIO A 471 Evolutionary Perspectives on Parenting and Childcare
  • BIO A 473 Biological Adaptability of Human Populations
  • BIO A 476 Sociocultural Ecology and Health
  • BIO A 482 Human Population Genetics
  • BIO A 483 Human Genetics, Disease, and Culture
  • BIO A 484 Human Life Cycle
  • BIO A 487 Human and Comparative Osteology
  • BIO A 495 Growth and Development: Infancy
  • BIO A 496 Growth and Development: Adolescence and Reproductive Maturity
  • BIO A 568 Human Reproductive Ecology