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. and Ph.D. 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 includes a large undergraduate introduction to global health from a social medicine perspective, Gen Ed 1093: Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Cares? Reimagining Global Health, as well as smaller seminars for undergraduates, medical students, and graduate students.

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 100 PhD students in the Department of Anthropology, including 25 MD/PhD students, 40 NIMH-supported post-doctoral fellows, 100 post-doctoral fellows from East Africa and East and Southeast Asia, and numerous visiting fellows and scholars. For 40 years, the NIMH training program in clinically relevant medical anthropology – or culture and mental health services – has 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 and cultural anthropology focused on studies of illness, healing, medical practices, health care delivery and biotechnologies across societies. In the 1980s, 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. Other key foci include experiences of suffering and of healing, care and caregiving, cultural and social-structural effects on health and social inequality, and the anthropology of global health. Field research has been conducted by faculty and students all over the world, including most notably, the United States, China, Indonesia, Russia, Central Asia, and a number of countries in Africa and South America. The late Paul Farmer had a large impact on the program with his emphasis on health equity, social justice, and deeply engaged forms of practice and institution building. 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, gender, and coloniality are embedded in medical knowledge and practice, violence and human suffering, pharmaceuticals and pharmaceutical lifestyles, haunting and hauntology – 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 themes 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; anthropological studies of major mental illness, stigma, and mental health services; and care and caregiving. These core themes are being addressed in research and academic writing and teaching by faculty, fellows, and students in the medical anthropology program.

Key Recent Publications in the Harvard Program in Medical Anthropology

  • Paul Farmer, et al: Reimagining Global Health.
  • Arthur Kleinman: The Soul of Care
  • Paul Farmer: Fevers, Feuds, and Diamonds
  • Byron Good: Medicine, Rationality and Experience
  • Mary-Jo Good: Shattering Culture
  • Salmaan Keshavjee: Blind Spot
  • Anne Becker: Global Mental Health Training and Practice: An Introductory Framework, in press
  • Eugene Richardson: Epidemic Illusions