The Program in Medical and Psychiatric Anthropology is one of the core academic programs in the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine. The Program bridges the Harvard Medical School (HMS) and the Department of Anthropology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), with some faculty having appointments both in HMS and FAS, students and fellows taking courses and working with faculty in both social medicine and anthropology, and degree programs (M.A. in Medical Anthropology and M.D./Ph.D. program in medical anthropology) and post-doctoral fellowship programs designed to cross the two faculties.

The Program in Medical and Psychiatric Anthropology was launched when Professor Arthur Kleinman came to Harvard in 1982 with appointments in both Social Medicine and Anthropology, and was joined one year later by Professors Byron Good and Mary-Jo DelVecchio Good. Together they built a program that has supported more than 70 PhD students in the Department of Anthropology, including 15 MD/PhD students, 40 NIMH-supported post-doctoral fellows, 75 post-doctoral fellows from East Africa and East and Southeast Asia, and numerous visiting fellows and scholars. For 25 years, the NIMH training program in clinically relevant medical anthropology – or culture and mental health services – brought together anthropologists, psychiatrists, and social scientists, fellows and graduate students, faculty, and clinicians from the community in a weekly seminar and collaborative activities that have helped define the program over the years. The “Friday Morning Seminar” continues into the present.

Medical anthropology is a subdiscipline of social anthropology focused on studies of illness, healing, medical care, and biotechnologies across societies. In the 1980’s, Harvard faculty, students and fellows collaborated around what was known as an “interpretive” or “meaning-centered” approach to theory, ethnographic research, and writing in medical anthropology. Today, medical anthropology has become a site within anthropology where wide-ranging issues crosscut – classical interests in local forms of medical knowledge and practice, the development of new biotechnologies and new forms of medicalization of human experience, reproductive technologies and the reshaping of kinship, the body and disciplinary practices, global inequalities in access to care, globalization of diseases (with HIV/AIDS a critical site for anthropology) and responses, emerging forms of governmentality enacted through medical institutions, critical studies of how race, ethnicity, and gender are embedded in medical knowledge and practice, violence and human suffering, pharmaceuticals and pharmaceutical lifestyles – these and many other issues have become core to what now constitutes medical anthropology.

Faculty, students, and fellows at Harvard have actively engaged many of these issues now central to medical and psychiatric anthropology. Several core issues have emerged as particularly salient within the Harvard program in recent years. These include studies of contemporary modes of subjectivity and human experience; violence, suffering and humanitarian interventions; moral dimensions of medicine, illness, and global health; cultural studies of biomedicine and emerging biotechnologies; race, ethnicity, and health care disparities; anthropologies of infectious diseases and global health delivery; and anthropological studies of major mental illness, stigma, and mental health services. These core issues are being addressed in the research and academic writing and teaching by faculty, fellows and students in the medical anthropology program.

Select Recent Topics of Research

  • Studies of Contemporary Modes of Subjectivity and Human Experience
  • Violence, Suffering and Humanitarian Interventions
  • Moral Dimensions of Medicine, Illness, and Global Health
  • Cultural Studies of Biomedicine and Emerging Biotechnologies
  • Race, Ethnicity, and Health Care Disparities
  • Anthropologies of Infectious Diseases and Global Health Delivery
  • Anthropological Studies of Major Mental Illness, Stigma, and Mental Health Services