School of Social and Political Science

MSc Medical Anthropology

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The deadline to apply for September 2024 entry is Monday 1 July 2024.

Investigate health, illness and medicine in a globalised world, from the perspective of both medical and social sciences

This programme studies health, illness and healing from a cross-cultural perspective.

With a focus on the understanding of health, illness and medicine in a globalised world, this programme allows you to engage with contemporary debates about old ills and emerging diseases, and explore both traditional forms of healing and modern medical technologies.

Intended for a diverse range of students, this distinctive and interdisciplinary programme will complement your background in anthropology or health sciences.

Medical anthropologists explore a wide range of medical practices, including both performative forms of healing (e.g., shamanism) and the newest biomedical technologies. Medical anthropologists are working in diverse fields: academic research, global health organisations, and health-focused NGOs. Concepts and methodologies from medical anthropology have become essential in all areas of global health research.

Our graduates

Graduates of the programme went on to work for international organizations and for health think tanks; won admission to some of the world's most prestigious Medical Schools (including Harvard and Yale); or continued to study for a PhD in Social Anthropology.


You will examine key questions in current medical anthropology from the perspective of both medical and social sciences, and address relevant issues, such as the way encounters between patients and professional healers are negotiated in varied cultural settings; the importance of political, economic and historical analysis to an understanding of the body; and the health-related effects of globalisation.

Our MSc in Medical Anthropology engages students with the field's distinctive approach to health and medicine. It takes students away from the idea that there is only one standardized "best practice" by showing an astounding diversity of therapeutic methods, ideas of disease causation, healer personalities, and spaces for healing.


Teaching combines lectures, seminars and tutorials, and you will produce essays and assessed coursework.

The programme works in close collaboration with the Global Public Health Unit and other subjects in the School of Social & Political Science.

You will complete two compulsory courses and four option courses. You are also encouraged to take the Development Research Methods course.

After the taught courses you will work towards your independently researched dissertation. 


The dissertation offers you the chance to do an in-depth study of a topic of your choice. Once the taught courses are successfully completed, you will spend the months from April until August researching and writing your dissertation under the supervision of a full-time member of staff. 

Previous dissertation topics include:

  • Health as Society: Functions and Efficacy of Balinese Healing

  • Emergence of Post-Traumatic Subjectivity. An Anthropological Critique of Medicalisation of Political Violence in Sri Lanka

  • “Creating National Health and Corporate Wealth”. Genzyme, Gaucher Disease and the Challenges of Enzyme Replacement Therapy within the British National Health Service

Placement Based Dissertations

MSc in Medical Anthropology students are able to apply to the School of Social & Political Science's Placement Based Dissertation Scheme, which gives students the opportunity of basing their dissertation on eight-week work placement.

Career opportunities

You will gain the conceptual and methodological skills to understand contemporary health practices in a wider context of social, political, and economic problems, and be able to work in academic and applied health research.

The programme also acts as a conversion MSc for those without training in anthropology who wish to progress to a research career.

In addition, you will develop a range of highly transferable skills, such as communication and project management, which can be applied to roles in any field.

Our graduates

Graduates of the programme went on to work for international organizations and for health think tanks; won admission to some of the world's most prestigious Medical Schools (including Harvard and Yale); or continued to study for a PhD in Social Anthropology.

How to apply
Award Title Duration Study mode  
MSc   1 Year Full-time Tuition fees
MSc   2 Years Part-time Tuition fees
Additional information

Dynamic environment

Our MSc in Medical Anthropology is the largest of its kind in the UK, and is embedded in the work of the Edinburgh Centre for Medical Anthropology.

As a student, you will be welcomed into our vibrant community as part of the Students of Medical Anthropology, and be able to take part in regular workshops, reading groups, and writing retreats. 

This programme is affiliated with the University's:

It works closely with other SPS departments:

  • Global Public Health Unit
  • Science, Technology and Innovation Studies

Students are encouraged to attend the huge number of health-related events across the University and to take full advantage of the opportunities for funding of student-led activities.

Our staff

Altogether eight members of academic staff from Social Anthropology carry out research on the body, health, and medicine, giving students a fantastic range of courses to choose from. 

Listen to some of our staff talk about their work:

Reading recommendations

We are frequently asked what students should read before arriving for the degree, and to give a sense of materials encountered during the course.

Here are a few suggestions to get you started and which may be of interest to applicants:

Introductory texts

  • Fadiman, A. 1998. The spirit catches you and you fall down: a Hmong child, her American doctors and the collision of two cultures: Farrar Straus & Giroux Inc.
  • Lock, M. & V.-K. Nguyen. 2010. An anthropology of biomedicine. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Robert Poole & Wenzel Geissler (2005): Medical Anthropology. Open University Press. 

Further Reading 

  • Anderson, W. 2008. Collectors of Lost Souls. Turning Kuru Scientists into Whitemen. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Caduff, C. 2015. The Pandemic, Perhaps: Dramatic Events in a Public Culture of Danger. University of California Press. 
  • Paul Farmer (2004): Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights and the New War on the Poor. University of California Press.
  • Fassin, D. 2007. When bodies remember: experiences and politics of AIDS in South Africa. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Martin, E. 2009. Bipolar expeditions: mania and depression in American culture. Princeton and Oxford Princeton University Press.
  • Mark Nichter (2008): Global Health: Why Cultural Perceptions, Social Representations, and Biopolitics Matter. University of Arizona Press. 
  • Petryna, A., A. Lakoff & A. Kleinman. 2006. Global pharmaceuticals: ethics, markets, practices. Durham [N.C.], London: Duke University Press. 
  • Rudrappa, S. 2015. Discounted Life: The Price of Global Surrogacy in India. New York University Press. 

Book Club

Medical Anthropology at the University also has a book club, where we discuss key texts.

Recent books include: 

  • J Biehl (2005): Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment. University of California Press.
  • Sophie Day (2007) On the Game: Women and Sex Work. Pluto Press. 
  • Angela Garcia (2010) The Pastoral Clinic: Addiction and Dispossession along the Rio Grande. University of California Press.