Holism, Health and Healing - SACO8800

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Module delivery information

Location Term Level1 Credits (ECTS)2 Current Convenor3 2022 to 2023
Spring Term 7 15 (7.5) Anna Waldstein checkmark-circle


The module addresses the causes, effects, treatments and meanings of health, illness and disease for humans and the ecosystems that they live in. The module content will be structured around five broad themes related to holism, health and healing, drawing on ethnographic examples from around the world. We will begin with a consideration of the evolutionary basis of human medicine and dietary behaviour. Next, we will take a closer look at healing systems, their structure and the various theories of illness and therapeutic techniques that they encompass. This will be followed by a critical examination of the biopolitics of health and healing, including the question of how to define and assess the efficacy of various medical treatments. We will then take a closer look at the spiritual aspects of health and healing before concluding with the final theme of holism, health and healing in the globalized world.


Contact hours

Total Contact Hours: 20
Private Study Hours: 130
Total Study Hours: 150


MSc Ethnobotany
MSc/MA Environmental Anthropology
MA Social Anthropology

Method of assessment

Essay, 2,000-2,500 words (60%)
Presentation, 10 min (40%)

Re-assessment methods: Like for like.

Indicative reading

Reading list (Indicative list, current at time of publication. Reading lists will be published annually)

Anderson, M. and Asnani, M. 2016. "'The White Blood Cell Always Eats the Red:' How Jamaicans With Sickle Cell Disease Understand their Illness." Ethnicity and Health 21(2): 103-117.

Hsu, E. and S. Harris (eds.) 2010. Plants, health and healing: on the interface of ethnobotany and medical anthropology. Oxford: Berghahn. (Introductory chapter)

McGonigle, I. 2017. "Spirits and Molecules: Ethnopharmacology and Symmetrical Epistemological Pluralism." Ethnos 82: 139-164.

Persson, A. et al. 2016. “On the Margins of Pharmaceutical Citizenship: Not Taking HIV medication in the 'Treatment Revolution’ Era.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 30(3): 359-377.

Pieroni, A. and Vandebroek, I. 2007. Traveling Cultures and Plants: The Ethnobiology and Ethnopharmacy of Migrations. Berghahn Books.

Van Andel, T. and P. Westers 2010. “Why Suranimese Migrants in the Netherlands Continue to Use Medicinal Herbs From their Home Country.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology 127(3): 694-701.

Volpato, G., D. Godinez and A. Beyra 2009. “Migration and Ethnobotanical Practices: The Case of Tifey Among Haitian Immigrants in Cuba.” Human Ecology 37: 43-53.

Waldstein, Anna and Cameron Adams. 2006. “The Interface Between Medical Anthropology and Medical Ethnobiology.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 12 (suppl. 1), 95-117.

Wayland, C. 2003. “Contextualizing the Politics of Knowledge: Physicians’ Attitudes toward Medicinal Plants.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 17, 483-500.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes. On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

8.1 Critically assess human nutritional requirements/recommendations from an evolutionary perspective.

8.2 Understand how and why medicinal plants affect human physiology in different biocultural contexts.

8.3 Rigorously analyse the implications of nature, complexity and richness of human diversity and adaptation in health and wellness.

8.4 Critically analyse the diverse strategies that humans have developed for dealing with illness and disease.

8.5 Critically engage with the wide range of variation in cultural models and technologies of medicine and health as reported in ethnography.

8.6 Demonstrate advanced knowledge and understanding of anthropological debates concerning health inequality, the relationship between health and the body and the historical development of biomedicine.

The intended generic learning outcomes. On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

9.1 Demonstrate independent learning and study skills.

9.2 Locate relevant sources of data (using library holdings and electronic sources) for particular assignments.

9.3 Construct and support a written argument with reference to appropriate scholarly sources.

9.4 Engage in constructive group discussions

9.5 Critically synthesise and summarise complex material succinctly.


  1. Credit level 7. Undergraduate or postgraduate masters level module.
  2. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  3. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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